With Lahainaluna’s smashmouth offense controlling the ball and the clock, the Lunas defense needed to do a big job.
Lahainaluna’s 21-10 win and four-peat as Division II state champion will be remembered for the superhuman 310-yard, three-touchdown performance of running back Josh Tihada. It also required yeoman’s work by a defensive unit that faced Kapaa’s potent offense, led by dual-threat QB Kahanu Davis, for a third time in just 12 months.
Safety Kaihulau Casco, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior, led the swarming Lunas with 7.5 tackles, including five solo takedowns.
“It’s amazing winning four straight state titles,” Casco said. “The bond between us brothers on the football team is really special. Size is nothing to us. It takes speed and heart.”
DE/LB Matthew Rabino (6-0, 210) hustled for six tackles, including three for loss. One of them was a sack of the swift Davis.
Defensive lineman Tuipolotu Lai (6-2, 280) was one of the key pieces in the trenches. He finished with six tackles, including a half-sack. In all, the Lunas sacked Davis four times even though Kapaa offered some different looks offensively.
“Honestly, we just played assignment football. We did our job. We got it done,” Casco said.
Nainoa Irish added 5.5 tackles, and Ekolu Mathias and Brysen Rickard had five tackles each. Tre Rickard pulled in an interception, and Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales had two sacks.
Lai and his pals in the trenches did the job, setting up playmakers like Rabino to put the heat on dangerous QBs like Davis. It’s not official, but Lai is hoping for a reward, like a Hurricane Bowl from Minit Stop on Maui.
“The D-line did a great job of pushing their line back,” Rabino said.
“We just wanted it more,” Lai said. “We came out here mentally prepared. We wanted to fight out there and work hard for our community. We wanted to bring the koa (trophy) back for everybody. It means a lot to everybody back at home and to us. We have a great coaching staff, great players and we’re all a family.”
Casco was on board for three of the four state crowns.
“Every year is hard. Every year has different obstacles,” he said.
Kapaa finished with 175 yards of rushing offense, at 4 yards per carry, but Lahainaluna limited the KIF champions to 37 passing yards. Davis finished 4-for-9, 37 yards with one pick. Davis was chased constantly and finished with 48 rushing yards on 21 attempts, a far cry from his 175 rushing yards against Kaimuki last week in the semifinals.
It wasn’t to be for the Warriors, who were in the final for a fourth time in five years.
“You meet up with a program like Lahainaluna that has more seasoned coaches, a program that’s been winning for so long. That’s just how it goes,” said Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo, who has guided the Warriors to dynasty status in the KIF.
Getting over another title-game loss, though, will take time.
“They’re in mourning right now. I’m not going to lie,” Rapozo said. “It’s hard for the boys. Everybody works so hard all year. They’ve been in the weight room since December, you know, just for this. We got another opportunity. Unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on it, but we’ll get back to work and try to get back here next year. If we get an opportunity every year, we’ll take it.”