Sabers Answer Gut Check Against KS-Maui
By Rodney S. Yap
It wasn’t that long ago when Maui High School was just happy to win a Maui Interscholastic League football game.
On Saturday night, at Kamehameha Maui’s Kanaiaupuni Stadium, the Sabers gathered in front of head coach David Bui at halftime for a mid-season gut-check. It was there, under the north end-zone scoreboard, with his team leading 21-13, where Bui expressed his torment for his team’s lack of discipline.
“Nine penalties for 99 yards,” he told his players and staff. “We have to stop hurting ourselves and just play football.”
Bui warned his players not to fall victim to the hype and hoopla that comes with a successful program.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” he reiterated.
Championship teams are focused and driven, Bui added, not fragmented or arrogant.
To the team’s credit, the Saber players responded to Bui’s plea with a positive second-half performance that translated to a 43-19 victory against Kamehameha Maui.
First-round champion Maui High improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the MIL second round. The team’s current win total matches the 4-4 mark it established last year.
A crowd of about 500 watched Kamehameha Maui drop to 0-6 on Senior Night. The Warriors travel to King Kekaulike on Saturday, Oct. 11.
On Friday, Oct. 10, Maui High plays 10-time defending MIL Division I-champion Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium. The game starts at 7 p.m. A win would set the table for the Sabers’ return to the state tournament for the first time since 2000.
“We have to clean up the penalties if we are going to go far this season,” Bui said Saturday. “Right now we are hurting ourselves with all these penalties and we have to clean that up.”
Bui praised his team’s sportsmanship and did not attribute Maui High’s aggressive style of play as the reason for the increased penalties.
The Sabers were a much more disciplined team in the second half, scoring on their first two possessions. Running back Onosai Emelio finished with three touchdown runs (5, 87, 5), the last coming midway through the third quarter, followed by Hanisi Lotulelei’s 45-yard touchdown run two minutes later, 36-13.
Maui High used a relentless running game to move the ball on offense and relied on an equally driven defense — sparked by its active front four in Jonatham Pono Lolohea, Tavita Taumua-Uini, Atunaisa Vainikolo and Alexander Vainikolo. The defense held the Warriors’ offense to 219 yards, pressuring quarterback Chase Newton repeatedly and sacking him five times.
Maui High forced KS-Maui to punt on its first three second-half possessions. The Sabers also regained possession on an interception by Soane Vaohea and a block punt by Atunaisa Vainikolo.
The Sabers offense played without the services of injured tight end Tristan Nichols, rolling up 454 yards, the bulk coming on the ground with more than a handful of talented running backs taking turns.
Emelio was the most productive ballcarrier, running for 144 yards on 12 carries. He broke five tackles en route to the end zone on his 87-yard run and benefitted from a huge comeback block on the visitor’s sidelines by fullback Daniel Kelley. Like the offensive line, Kelley was an instrumental blocker for his running mates, paving the way for Lotulelei’s two touchdowns and 97 yards on five carries.
“Our boys know that the heart and soul of our team are the guys up front, on the offensive and defensive lines,” Bui said. “They don’t get a lot of recognition because they are not the ones scoring touchdowns but they are the heart and soul of our team.”
Bui said Nichols’ return to the field will depend on whether his doctor clears him to play.
Meanwhile, the team has developed a half dozen running backs who routinely rotate, depending on who is expected to play defense on the ensuing possession. This week, Lotulelei, Nathan Nunez, David Kahaleauki and Ericson Hirose contributed to the run game.
“The kids know that playing running back is not just carrying the ball and scoring touchdowns. We have a lot of running backs who rotate, because we have some that go two-ways. Playing running back is more than just carrying the ball. It’s also about blocking and they know that.”
Because winning is something new to his team, Bui said there is a learning curve.
“We are all new to this so there are some things that we are learning as we go, for the players and the coaches.”
It would be nice to smell the roses, he added, but there’s still plenty of football to be played.
“I’m really happy for the boys, they have worked hard for this and deserve it. It’s hard sometimes to enjoy it when you’re in it and you are always preparing and planning for the next thing.”
Saturday’s MIL Scoring Summary
At Kanaiaupuni Stadium
SABERS 43, WARRIORS 19
Maui High ……………. 13 ….. 8 ….. 15 ….. 7—43
Kamehameha Maui ….. 7 ….. 6 ……. 0 ….. 6—19
KS—Keoni Keanini 39 pass from Chase Newton (Colton Cabanas kick), 7:12.
MH—Onosai Emelio 5 run (Jayden Wilhelm kick), 6:03.
MH—Hanisi Lotulelei 36 run (kick failed), 5:43.
MH—Emelio 87 run (Wilhelm run), 7:06.
KS—Keanini 22 pass from Newton (kick blocked), 0:06.
MH—Emelio 5 run (Wilhelm kick), 6:52.
MH—Lotulelei 45 run (Tyson Takabayashi run), 5:09.
MH—Ericson Hirose 38 run (Wilhelm kick), 4:15.
KS—Joshua Hiwatashi 3 pass from Kulana-Alika Wilhelm (pass failed), 2:16.
* All statistics complied by Rob Collias of The Maui News.