MIL Champions Play for Pride in Season Finale
By Rodney S. Yap
Its rare, very rare, when one champion plays another champion in a season-ending game with nothing at stake.
In 92 years of Maui Interscholastic League football, Lahainaluna and Maui High — the league’s two original public school members — have never advanced to the state tournament in the same year.
Saturday’s much-anticipated second-round matchup of MIL champions at War Memorial Stadium will be a fitting way to finish the 2014 regular-season schedule.
On tap, beginning at 7 p.m., MIL Division I champion Maui High (8-1 overall) plays host to MIL Division II champion Lahainaluna (9-0 overall).
Maui High’s state champion Marching Band & Color Guard will highlight the homecoming festivities during halftime. All the action can be heard live on ESPN 900AM Radio.
For the record, Saturday’s game will have no bearing on the MIL final standings in either division. Both teams have clinched league titles and are assured a state tournament playoff game in their respective divisions next month.
“You are always concern about injuries and being that its the last game and it means nothing. But Maui High is not going to treat it like that and we don’t have any intensions of treating it like that either,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said.
Although the outcome carries little weight in the record books, it figures to have an impact on the tournament’s seedings. Then there’s the official bragging rights entrusted to the winner and the obvious boost the school enjoys during the week(s) leading up to its playoff game.
“Looks like we are both going to get a bye week next week, so hopefully there are no serious injuries where any kids are out of the state tournament. In a game like this, I think it’s important that both teams play at a high level to get ready for the state tournament,” said Maui High head coach David Bui.
Since its not a championship game, but it involves a pair of championship teams, is it a “Statement Game?”
“It is a statement game,” Bui answered. “We talked about peaking at the right time and we want to continue to get better. For our boys and their boys, we are playing for pride.”
In their first meeting on Sept. 13, the two teams combined for five first downs in a scoreless first half. Lahainaluna scored its lone offensive touchdown with less than a minute left in the third quarter. A 15-yard illegal participation penalty on Maui High helped the Lunas retain possession before eventually scoring the game’s first touchdown.
Lahainaluna’s defense provided the insurance score when linebacker Ryan Delatori intercepted a Saber pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
As expected, both teams were stellar on defense. The Sabers held the Lunas to 123 yards and quarterback Makoa Sione Filikitonga-Lukea threw for just 15 yards, completing 3 of 9 pass attempts. The Lunas yielded 47 total yards, allowing just 12 net yards the second half.
“They did a number on us in that first game and we got lucky to get that 14-0 outcome,” Tihada said. “ We look back and we still have to improve, so it’s important that we come out there and look a lot better than we did against Baldwin. Because other than our Kapa’a game, that was the toughest game we’ve had all season. If we can come out and be firing on all cylinders and take advantage of what they give us, I think we could show pretty good about ourselves going into state.”
No MIL team knows more about playing football in November than the Lunas, who are making their 10th postseason appearance in 12 years and own a 16-game win streak.
“We needed a close game like that. It was a gut-check game and it was really good for us,” said Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson. “Our guys are not used to playing 0-0. So at halftime, I told our boys . . . now is the time to show what you got and what kind of character you have. If you want to win, you guys are going to have to come out and play harder — and they did that for us.”
The Sabers clinched their first state tournament berth in 14 years two weeks ago when they shutdown Baldwin 27-0.
Gone are the fumbled snaps and illegal-procedure penalties. A week ago the Sabers rushed for 359 yards and had five different running backs score touchdowns in a 48-0 clubbing of King Kekaulike.
After discussing game strategy with his assistant coaches and players, Bui decided anything less than 100 percent effort during homecoming week would be disrespectful to the team’s fans and loyal Marching Band & Color Guard.
“We’ve crossed this road as a coaching staff and as a team, too, we asked our boys: The way we see it is we want to go hard in everything that we do. We want to do it to the best of our abilities. We are in a unique situation where our last game of the season is our homecoming game and our fans have really been behind us and we want to perform well for them.”
NOTE: In 1998, the Sabers won the MIL first-round title and the Lunas won the second-round title, forcing a playoff game to decide the league champion. Lahainaluna would eventually claim the overall championship, having secured back-to-back MIL championships in 1997 and 1998. Combined with two years of runner-up finishes in 1996 and 2000, the Lunas owned an impressive 47-8-1 record during that four-year time span with Watson at the reigns.
LAHAINALUNA TEAM STATS
MAUI HIGH TEAM STATS