‘September Showdown’: Bears vs. Lunas on Friday
By Rodney S. Yap
Rarely does an MIL football season hinge on a game three weeks into the schedule. Friday night, however, may be the exception to the rule.
Round 1: Baldwin vs. Lahainaluna. The long lines for tickets outside War Memorial Stadium will be the first of many signs into the significance of Friday’s “September Showdown.”
The stakes are always high when these two non-division rivals meet, but injuries to a pair of Baldwin aces appear to have leveled the playing field.
The usual underdogs from the west side will not have to deal with Bears’ quarterback Keelan Ewaliko, who continues to nurse a broken rib he suffered in a pre-season contest against fifth-ranked Saint Louis. Meanwhile, linebacker Jordan Hoiem – the MIL’s first-ever underclassman to receive a Division I scholarship offer – is out with a sore toe and flu-like symptoms.
“He’s not going to play and he hasn’t been cleared by his doctor yet, so we can’t play him,” Baldwin head coach AJ Roloos said of Ewaliko.
“He’s been at practice throwing the ball, which is a good sign, and he hasn’t had any pain in his ribs. But we’re going to take all the precautionary measures because we’re going to need him the whole year. One game is not going to make or break your season. I would rather have him play the whole season than just one game.”
Only six months ago, Ewaliko and Hoiem were introduced to the University of Hawaii football team by head coach Norm Chow at its spring Maui practice.
Chow has offered both players scholarships. Ewaliko is the MIL’s two-time returning player of the year, who also captured the state’s 200-meter championship in May, while Hoiem finished third in his class (2014) and 20th overall (out of 600 athletes) at Nike’s season-ending combine in Portland, Ore., posting a 87.36 overall SPARQ rating.
Since the combine, the sweepstakes for Hoiem’s football talents have expanded to include University of Utah, Utah State and UNLV. Part of the fuss about Hoiem is his size. That’s because he’s a legit 6-foot-4, 220-pound . . . junior.
No matter how you slice it, their absence on Friday hurts Baldwin tremendously. The handicap means Lahainaluna’s 31-man roster should more than hold its own against Baldwin’s 61-player squad. Kick off is at 7 p.m.
While the-always-prepared Lunas lack numbers and depth, they are talented, fast and fit at key positions. The names — Tytus Lucas, Semisi Filikitonga, Reece Sinenci, Kiko Kolher-Fonohema, Hercules Mataafa, Connor Mowat, Joshua Coston, and Jared Rocha-Isalas — are familiar because they represent positions on both sides of the line.
Coaching two-way players at Lahainaluna was a job requirement back in the ’80s under Lanny Tihada and many of his assistants have remained on staff, including his son, Garret Tihada, who coordinates the offense and is co-head coach with Bobby Watson.
“The way I’m looking at it, I think the key match-up will be defense vs. defense,” said Watson, the MIL’s most senior coach.
“The key to this game will be the first team to make a mistake,” said Baldwin head coach AJ Roloos. “What you want to do is not make mistakes and be ready to cash in on any your opponent makes.”
With two league wins under its belt (3-0 overall), Lahainaluna have yet to commit a turnover — fumble or interception — in 142 plays, special teams included.
“You don’t want to make mental mistakes,” Roloos said. “Especially against a team like Lahainaluna, they capitalize on turnovers and field position.”
Bears on Offense
Ewaliko’s leadership and experience was noticeably missing in the Bears’ 25-5 win against Maui High a week ago. Not surprising, considering Ewaliko has taken nearly every snap from center over the last two years.
Roloos will be counting on the play of 5-foot, 7-inch backup quarterback Ryan Graham to execute a scaled-down version of the spread.
Last week, Graham threw for 151 yards (19 of 28) — throwing primarily to the short side of the field — and connected with Ryan Garces six times for 94 yards. The Bears’ ground game found limited success out of the power-I formation with converted defensive tackle Miki Fangatua lining up at fullback. The majority of the carries went to Kaipo Lapenia-Lau (10 for 38, 2 TDs), and mostly in the red zone.
“That’s just another way for us to change the tempo of the game,” said Roloos about the power-I formation. “If we can’t move the ball in the spread, then by all means we will run the ball.”
Roloos said he is prepared to run the ball between the tackles if he has to.
“If we decide to play physical than we will go to the I-formation and run the ball and try and wear them down.”
Lunas on Defense
For the first time in years, Lahainaluna’s defensive ends — Mataafa and Samiuela Filiai — are upright in a two-point stance.
The bookends are nearly identical as Mataafa checks in at 6-3, 220 pounds and Filiai is 6-2, 225. Mataafa has all the tools of a Division I prospect as the country’s leading prep analyst Tom Lemming has the junior listed among the state’s top 36 players.
According to Watson, Filiai was an academic casualty last year and is in good standing this year on and off the field.
“Hercules is a speed rusher, outside guy,” Roloos said. “We’ll probably run right at him, maybe send two guys at him. And if we still can’t block him, we’ll run away from him and he’ll probably still run you down. I think the best thing is to attack him and make him have to make a play. Hopefully you can wear him down. He’s athletic, there’s no way we can block him one-on-one.”
Sophomore Mowat (5-11, 210) is the nose guard in the Lunas’ odd-man front. The other primary linemen are Coston, Connor Rosen-St. John and Lovai Hong.
“They have defensive guys that fly around and they have fast d-linemen,” Roloos said.
Lucas is the safety and Filikitonga is the Lunas’ designated shut-down corner, lining up against the opponent’s top receiver. The pair are also sure tacklers.
The defense has pitched a pair of shutout victories and is giving up a stingy 1.6 yards per play.
Baldwin on Defense
Everything starts with Fangatua.
“He’s going to play in the middle,” Roloos said. “We can’t block him one-on-one in practice, he kills us. But like I tell out offensive linemen, if you can block him, you can block anybody in this league.”
If he’s not on the center, Baldwin likes to lineup Fangatua on the opponent’s best offensive lineman. Fangatua is 6-foot, 253 pounds and the state’s top returning discus/shot putter. He has already received a scholarship offer from Weber State.
“He works hard for us and does all the things that we ask him to do,” Watson said of Mowat, arguably the Lunas’ best overall linemen. “Honestly, I don’t know if we can afford to let this guy (Fangatua) just wreak havoc in our backfield.
“He’s an outstanding athlete. He makes impact plays and the rest of the defense follows his lead. It’s going to take more than one player to block him,” Watson said of Fangatua. “He manhandles people, he’s got speed, he’s got strength, he’s got height. Miki has a lot of the same qualities [as Pasoni Tasini], that’s tough.”
The Bears return eight starters on defense, including two other Division I prospects in defensive back Abraham Reinhardt (5-11, 180, Sr.) and linebacker Tevarua Eldridge (6-2, 225, Jr.). Reinhardt returned a 60-yard fumble for touchdown against Maui High last week, lined up at outside linebacker. Because he’s a playmaker, he also spends time at safety.
“I think our defense processes the same kind of athlete like their defense does,” Watson compared. “I think their defense is built around quick people and our defense is basically trying to do the same thing.”
The other key Baldwin defenders are linebacker Nohea Keahi (6-1, 190, So.) and defensive backs Danny Webb (5-10, 165, Sr.).
Lahainaluna on Offense
The Lunas attack you with a ball-control offense. They are patient, almost to a fault, preferring to rely on their base package rather than risk a turnover attempting a trick play or something outside their playbook. Few can argue the philosophy and the results are proof.
Quarterback Kiko Kolher-Fonohema is the triggerman and his play has been near flawless thus far. He has thrown for 112 yards (9 of 19) and rushed for 79 on 24 carries. He has scored an MIL-leading 24 points, on four rushing touchdowns and has also passed for one.
Lahainaluna rotates its running backs with Rocha-Isalas, Lucas, Filikitonga and Christian Cardenas-Ayala sharing the bulk of the responsibility. Rocha-Isalas and Cardenas-Ayala handle the inside work, while Lucas and Filikitonga are explosive running wide.
Rocha-Isalas has a team-high 115 yards rushing on 21 carries, followed by Lucas’ 16 rushes for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Kolher-Fonohema’s favorite target is 6-foot-2 tight end Asi Fatongia, who has four catches for 62 yards and one touchdown.
Who: Baldwin (1-0, 1-1) vs. Lahainaluna (2-0, 3-0)
Where: War Memorial Stadium
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Radio: 6:45 p.m., on ESPN 550AM with play-by-play analyst Barry Helle and color commentator Fred Guzman.
NOTES: Baldwin starting quarterback Keelan Ewaliko still nursing a broken rib and has not been medically cleared to play although he practiced with the team this past week in helmet and shoulder pads only . . . the Bears will start backup QB Ryan Graham for the second week in a row . . . BHS linebacker Jordan Hoiem continues to battle an illness, while dealing with an injured toe . . . LHS is seeking its first win over BHS since 2009.
MIL Top Performers, Week 2, Aug. 31-Sept. 1
Lahainaluna QB Kiko Kolher-Fonohema,123 yards in total offense, 2 Rush TDs, 1 Pass TD
Baldwin WR Ryan Garces, 6 catches 94 yards.
Maui High WR Jared Kapisi, 5 catches, 71 yards, 40 FG
Baldwin QB Ryan Graham, 19-28-0 Passing, 151 yards
Baldwin PK Zach Coloma-Mariano, 2 FGs
Baldwin LB/S Abraham Reinhardt (60-yard fumble return for TD)
Baldwin DT Miki Fangatua
Lahainaluna DE Hercules Mataafa
Lahainaluna DE Samiuela Filiai
Lahainaluna DB Semisi Filikitonga