Reflection: Watson Hopes for Quality Numbers
By Rodney S. Yap
Maui Now caught up with Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson for a final season-ending, question-and-answer interview.
Lahainaluna fell short of its goal of winning the Hawaii High School State Division II Football Championship. On Saturday, Nov. 16, against visiting Kaiser before a War Memorial Stadium crowd of about 9,000, the previously unbeaten Lunas fell to the Cougars, 20-9, in a semifinal contest.
Kaiser’s special teams broke a 7-7 tie on the first play of the fourth quarter last night, Nov. 23, when Melvin Kahunanui recovered a block punt in the end zone to help the Cougars pull out a 17-7 win over Kauai in the first game of a doubleheader to decide Hawaii’s 2013 state football champions.
The fourth-seeded Cougars (13-1) earned their 13th straight victory and the school’s first Division II state football championship. Unseeded Kauai suffered its first loss of the season (10-1) after building a 7-0 lead at halftime.
A crowd of 20,934 fans at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium saw top-seeded Punahou capture its second state crown and first since 2008. Larry “Tui” Tuileta threw for 265 yards and three first-half touchdown passes to lead Punahou to a 28-22 win over Mililani in the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I State Championships. The Buffanblu completed the 2013 season with a perfect 11-0 mark.
Recapping, Lahainaluna (10-1) had its 10-game win streak snapped by Kaiser and finished one game short of its third state championship game appearance.
1. What does a coach do, after 11 straight wins and arguably the best season in school history, comes to a screeching halt — one game short of its goal to play for the Div. II state championship?
“Hats off to Kaiser. They beat us. That’s the most physical team we’ve played. I don’t think there is a more physical game that we’ve ever been in. I don’t think we’ve ever faced a more physical team than that.”
“It was a tough week for us, not just for me but all of us. And I think the toughest thing to handle was how physical it was . . . . It’s a tough thing to reflect on. The bottom line is, when you get into a physical game, like we did with Kaiser, what it really came down to was the fact that we really didn’t have enough personnel that we could stay with them. When (Jared) Rocha went down — the kid plays offense and defense and special teams — so during the course of the game you could see.
“We looked good on Maui as long as everybody was healthy, but in a physical game the wear and tear took its toll and if you don’t have enough personnel, or quality personnel, the game switches hands. And that’s what happened to us. If you take away the kickoff return and the fullback touchdown on fourth-and-one, we would have won the game. As bad as we looked we were still in the game. And those are the things that go through your mind.
“The funny thing is, in the three weeks leading up to the game, they asked: ‘OK coach what’s going to happen?’ And my whole feeling all through that time was: ‘You know what guys, if they are bigger, stronger and faster than us they are going to win and if we are bigger, stronger, and faster than them we’re going to win. The better team is going to win and that’s exactly what played out.”
2. I’m sure there were several Lahainaluna football fans who book trips to Oahu this weekend and are there now. Do you go to the game or go shopping?
“If I was in Honolulu I would have probably gone to the game. For me, I wanted to see if we were a legit team. Honestly, I felt like if we had all our key personnel in there and Rocha had not gone down, it would have been a different ball game. But it is what it is and now our whole thing is how are we going to get quality numbers to come out. That is one of the team goals we have to look at if we want to continue to be successful.”
3. How many times have you watched the game video from last Saturday?
“No, I have not gone back to watch it. After the season I normally take a month off and then I will go back and watch every game we’ve played and re-evaluate the whole thing.
“If they beat you off the ball and were more physical and stuff, then you have to come to the realization that you were beaten by a better team. Once Jared went down and we couldn’t score on four downs, that’s when I realized they were much stronger than us.”
4. Having said that, would you say that was one of the key turning points in the game?
“Yes, that was a big letdown to our offensive line. To me, I look at that as a game-changer because that to me bothered our kids.
“When you have a bunch of kids going two ways, it works both ways. When you make a big play on defense, it rallies the offense, like when you make a play of offense it rallies the defense. Saying that, and with a lot of our players playing two ways, it’s a big letdown.
“At that point, inside of me I felt like — I didn’t tell anyone at the time — that was going to be a big game-changer.”
5. Accepting the fact that they were stronger and more dominate had to be one of the things that hurt the most?
“Yes, it was. Something that went for us all year, and all of a sudden was not there. It’s not making any excuses, just looking at it, we had our opportunities during the game and it came down to smash-mouth ball and we had too many key personnel out.
“The good thing is a lot of the kids are already getting ready for next year. The bottom line is we can only coach them, they have to go out there and play the game. We are looking for the future leaders of this team and there are a couple right now who have stepped up. But like I said, it’s a matter of us getting, not just football players, but quality players. It is nice to have numbers, but quality numbers is our goal.”
6. What do you hope the players on this team remembers about the 2013 MIL football season?
“That a team that works hard can accomplish big things. They gave it their all and came up a game short of reaching their goal of going back to the state championship game at Aloha Stadium. It’s a tough one for them as players and a tough one for us as coaches. But I think those kids that really worked hard learned what it takes to achieve some kind of success and I think that’s the important thing.
“It starts with hard work and you get what you put into it, that’s the bottom line.”