Opponents Struggle to Simulate Lunas’ Defense
By Rodney S. Yap
The 2013 version of Lahainaluna High School football proved too formidable for its latest foe — King Kekaulike — setting up a potential blockbuster game on Friday the 13th against Baldwin.
The Lunas dismantled Kekaulike on Friday, Sept. 6, rolling up 35 first-half points en route to a 49-0 Division II win in wet and rainy conditions at War Memorial Stadium.
Lahainaluna improved to 2-0 in the Maui Interscholastic League standings, posting its ninth shutout in 14 games dating back to last year. Winless King Kekaulike dropped its third straight getting outscored 110 to 7 through the first three weeks of the season.
The Upcountry school welcomes this week’s bye and hopes to have several key individuals back when it returns to the field on Sept. 21 against visiting Baldwin.
“Absolutely,” said King Kekaulike first-year coach Kyle Sanches when asked if he was looking forward to his team’s first-round bye this week. “We have to get better and obviously we have a lot of work to do. We have to continue to grind, we have to continue to learn, and we have to make a few tweaks offensively and defensively.”
Kamehameha Maui pushed Baldwin to the brim Saturday, Sept. 7, before succumbing 42-35.
Baldwin (2-0) will be busy preparing to deal with Lahainaluna’s dominate defensive pressure — the focal point of the Lunas’ success this year and the key to their school record nine shutouts in less than 1 1/2 seasons.
“We spent a lot of time preparing for that,” said Sanches about the Lunas’ fierce rush led by all-star defensive bookends Hercules Mata’afa and Connor Mowat. “But the difference is, it’s hard to simulate what Lahainaluna has when you don’t have it yourself. So for us, we had to bring pressure and simulate it in practice.”
Kapaa head coach Kealii Margado said the Lunas’ three-man front, which includes 6-foot-4, 350-pound nose guard Pousima Galoia, is better than advertised.
“They are stronger and faster than they look on film,” said Margado following his team’s preseason loss (28-13) last month.
Scouting the Lunas’ talent on defense is one thing, replicating the strength and quickness of Mata’afa and Mowat are nearly impossible tasks. Opponents are now 0-4 against Lahainaluna, getting outscored 147 to 20.
King Kekaulike fell behind 14-0 to the 10th-ranked Lunas (Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top Ten Poll) at the midway point of the first quarter and then played without the services of starting quarterback Ryley Widell one quarter later.
“I think he will be fine,” Sanches said of Widell, the league’s top returning passer and the team’s leading rusher. “He feels good and everything seems good, but we’re still not sure if our trainer is going to want him to get checked out (by a doctor) on Monday.”
King Kekaulike was happy to have running back Jay Braun in the lineup after losing him to a serious knee injury year ago. Braun remains one of the fastest sprinters in the state and was the strongest athlete at the 2012 Maui Football Combine when he bench pressed 225 pounds, 14 times his sophomore summer.
However, the wet field and rainy conditions on Friday only compounded Kekaulike’s offensive struggles.
Braun finished with 45 tough yards on 19 carries. As a team, King Kekaulike was held to 14 yards in total offense and two first downs.
Sanches said Braun’s play was among the highlights from the lopsided loss.
“Coming back after the knee surgery he’s been running real tentatively,” Sanches said. “But Friday night was the first time he’s had any real hard contact. I think he felt comfortable and I think it was a positive mental hurdle for him as well.”
King Kekaulike also committed nine penalties for 45 yards and was forced to punt eight times.
“Hopefully we will get a few kids back by next week.”
Sanches singled out the possible return of Charles Apuna, who injured his shoulder in the team’s preseason scrimmage at Kamehameha Hawaii, and Brandon Haupu, Daryl Higashi and Keanu Miller. Miller has been nursing a shoulder injury since losing the season opener at Kamehameha Schools Maui.
“Right now the kid that is playing the best for us is Christian Garcia Alvarez,” the coach said of his senior linebacker, who transferred from Maui High after sitting out the season last year with an injury. “Defensively he’s been all over the place. He is certainly a welcome addition to our program.
“The other kid who has been playing well is linebacker Kianu Pelekai-Peneku,” Sanches concluded.
Friday’s MIL Game Summary
King Kekaulike 0 0 0 0—0
Lahainaluna 14 21 14 0—49
LH—Christian Whitehead 21 run (Jared Rocha-Islas kick), 9:49.
LH—Whitehead 1 run (Rocha-Islas kick) 6:40.
LH—Rocha-Islas 30 run (Rocha-Islas kick) 11:37.
LH—Jeffery Ancog 13 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 8:41.
LH—Makoa Filikitonga 62 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 5:52.
LH—David Kawabata 10 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 7:47.
LH—Nathaniel Hapakuka-Nunuha 10 run (Rocha-Islas kick), 0:30.
Junior varsity: Lahainaluna 36, King Keaulike 35.