Undefeated Moanalua turns attention to Vegas trip

Moanalua's Rudy Kealohi (11) tried to shake a defender after making a catch against Leilehua. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

While Saint Louis and Mililani were finishing off a Hawaii sweep against Nevada competition on Friday, Moanalua was setting its focus on its upcoming trip to the ninth island.

Na Menehune had initially planned to have two weeks to prepare for their trip to Las Vegas to face Sierra Vista on Friday, but last week’s postponement of their OIA Division I showdown with Leilehua turned a scheduled bye week into another week of preparation for a pivotal early-season matchup.

The malfunctioning stadium lights at Moanalua not only delayed the game against the sixth-ranked Mules another week, but also forced a move to Hugh Yoshida Stadium. But 10th-ranked Na Menehune overcame the loss of a home date and an early deficit to claim the top spot in the division with a 24-20 win in Wahiawa.


“We wanted to do this last week but the lights happened and we had to prolong it a little bit more. But now we close the book on them and open the book on Sierra Vista,” Moanalua coach Savai’i Eselu said after Na Menehune improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 Division I play.

>> CLICK HERE FOR A PHOTO GALLERY FROM THE GAME

Na Menehune are scheduled to leave for Las Vegas on Tuesday and will take with them the momentum of three dramatic wins to open the season.

Sierra Vista has struggled so far with a 35-0 loss to Centennial (Las Vegas) on Aug. 23 and a 56-7 defeat at Skyridge High in Lehi, Utah, on Friday. But preparing to face the Mountain Lions probably won’t be the only thing keeping Eselu awake for the next week.

“Vegas is Vegas,” he said. “I want to make sure I don’t sleep at all and watch these guys like a hawk.”

So far Moanalua’s fourth quarters have been plenty to keep Eselu wired this season.

Na Menehune opened with a walk-off field goal for a 21-20 win over ‘Iolani on Aug. 10 and then held off Kailua 19-18. After the week-long delay against Leilehua, Moanalua fell behind 7-0 early in the second quarter when Mules running back Jamil Vereen capped the nine-play drive by powering into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run.

Moanalua quarterback RJ Javar was sacked three times in three drives that netted a total of negative-15 yards and produced two first downs, both thanks to Leilehua penalties.

While the Na Menehune defense contained Leilehua, Javar found his rhythm and threw touchdown passes to Darius Johnson (5 yards) in the second quarter and Rudy Kealohi (6 yards) in the third to give Moanalua a 12-7 lead going into what would become a wild final period.

Leilehua appeared poised to reclaim the momentum when the Mules downed a punt at the Moanalua 1 with 8:54 left. Instead, Javar completed a short slant to Jansen York, who escaped the grasp of a defender and found only open FieldTurf ahead for a stunning 99-yard touchdown against a Leilehua defense than had allowed just one offensive touchdown in its first three games.


“When we got down on the 1, our mentality was that’s just another opportunity to get more yards,” York said of the longest play in Na Menehune history. “When they called the play we just knew because they were in man-on-man (coverage), and just the throw and the blocking after the catch helped me run all the way down the field. Just a team effort.”

A little more than a minute later, Moanalua cornerback Rashod Tanner — who had an interception in the end zone on the game’s opening drive — diagnosed a swing pass and hit the running back as the ball arrived. Linebacker Jett Tanigawa snagged the tipped pass and took it back 32 yards to extend Moanalua’s lead to a commanding 24-7.

“I saw the running back motion out so I already knew it was going to be a screen, most likely,” Tanigawa said. “As soon as I saw our corner Rashod Tanner running down to make that play I knew he was going to make that ball pop out so I kept running and I saw open field and took off.”

Leilehua mounted a late rally behind backup quarterback Kekoa Turnagan, who threw two touchdown passes to Jonathan Vasquez to bring the Mules back within a score with :35 seconds left. But Moanalua recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the win.


“Things just didn’t go our way,” was Leilehua coach Mark Kurisu’s lone comment as he left the field.

The next week will be eventful for both teams with Moanalua in Las Vegas and Leilehua capping homecoming week with a game against Aiea on Friday.

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