Lunas Celebrate Homecoming With 37-7 Rout of Kekaulike
By Rodney S. Yap
Lahainaluna High School played like a team with direction and purpose Saturday and it showed on the scoreboard.
The rebuilding Lunas gave their homecoming fans a reason to celebrate, finding the end zone five times en route to a 37-7 triumph over King Kekaulike, after leading by only a field goal through the first quarter of play.
The win snapped a four-game losing skid and came under the lights and shine of the school’s $9.2 million Sue Cooley Stadium. For the first time in more than a month Lahainaluna played as well as its new on-campus jewel of a facility looks, giving the red-and-white faithful plenty to cheer for, including the team’s first MIL victory no less.
Winning can cure a lot of woes and at the midway point of the regular season the team welcomes the chance to evaluate its success. With a bye this week, expect the Lunas to activate or perhaps rest the handful of injured players they anticipate using for their run at the Division II second-round title when they return to action at Kamehameha Maui on Friday, Sept. 25.
On Saturday, the Lunas showed flashes of brilliance, sparked by play of seniors Dylan Delatori, Ivan Upfold-Pante, Nau Filiai, Junior Moala, Christopher Kaniho and Kiakahai Kenolio, mixed in with the contributions from juniors Donovan Defang, Radon Sinenci, Ammon Walters and Justice Tihada.
The Lunas (1-3) boast runner-up finishes in two of the last three Division II state championship games and opened the 2015 campaign as perennial MIL Division II champions and a lofty 17-game win streak in league play that dates back to 2012.
Although plagued by youth, lack of interior size and inexperience, few would have figured the Lunas to start the season with three consecutive defeats in front of standing-room-only home crowds.
Lahainaluna found its way using its signature bend-but-don’t-break defense, aligned with a four-man front and a committee of running backs to control the game clock with long drives. Delatori’s consistency and leadership at quarterback was a big boost, and Dafang’s toughness and attitude — particularly in the red zone — turned would-be field goals into touchdowns.
Na Alii’s only score came on a 75-yard scamper by Kawika Akahi with 9 minutes, 46 seconds to play in the third quarter. It was one of the few times the Lunas’ defense was caught napping and came after a sudden change that gave Kekaulike back the ball following a roughing the punter violation.
A total of 14 players carried the ball for Lahainaluna, picking up 273 yards rushing. Sinenci scored on runs of 15 and 4 yards, respectively. His first score helped the Lunas build a 24-7 lead and the shorter run capped the night’s scoring with 3:59 to play.
Dafang scored on a 2-yard option early in the second quarter. His touchdown and Haaheo Au’s foot gave Lahainaluna a 10-0 lead. Delatori found a wide open Ronnie Espiritu for a 23-yard touchdown pass in the back of the Kekaulike secondary 37 seconds before halftime to pad the home team’s advantage, 17-0.
Lahainaluna finished with 168 yards and 10 first downs in the first half, while yielding 30 yards of offense to Na Alii.
Upfold-Pante had the Lunas’ longest scoring run, from 16 yards, with 10:19 to play in the fourth quarter. The score extended Lahainaluna’s lead to 30-7.
King Kekaulike (0-3) was led by seniors Akahi, Laakea Day, and Micah Taberna.
Saturday’s MIL Scoring Summary
At Sue Cooley Stadium
King Kekaulike 0 0 7 0—7
Lahainaluna 3 14 7 13—37
LH—FG Haaheo Au 26, 7:12.
LH—Donovan Defang 2 run (Au kick), 8:17.
LH—Ronnie Espiritu 23 pass from Dylan Delatori (Au kick), 0:37.
KH—Kawika Akahi 75 run (Collin Miller kick), 9:46.
LH—Radon Sinenci 15 run (Au kick), 3:59.
LH—Ivan Upfold-Pante 16 run (run failed), 10:19.
LH—Sinenci 4 run (Au kick), 6:31.
Junior varsity: Lahainaluna 28, King Kekaulike 6.
* Note: All individual and team statistics complied by Rob Collias of The Maui News.