HONOLULU — This one has to go down with a cliche like “Done by Defense.” Or perhaps, “Defense Does It.”
Whatever way Lahainaluna High School’s methodical 30-7 win over Konawaena in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I state football tournament is remembered years from now, there will be no question that the Lunas did it, by and large, with their D.
Lahainaluna forced 10 turnovers by the Wildcats and simply never let them get any rhythm going on offense on Friday afternoon at Skippa Diaz Stadium on the Farrington High School campus.
“If not for the ‘D’ we would not have been in this game to tell you the truth,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard said. “I mean, we all know that.”
Top-seeded Lahainaluna (7-0) will play for the school’s first D-I state title on Thursday at the same stadium at 4 p.m.
It was another masterful job by co-head coach Bobby Watson, who has been running the Lunas’ defensive scheme for decades.
“Kudos to coach Watson and his coaching staff,” Rickard said. “And all the kids that really, really were able to put the packages together that coach Watson had prepared for them. Coach Watson, as we all know, is kind of legendary in how he breaks down film, prepares and always has something up his sleeve, so to speak.
“They say defense wins championships and tonight they proved it. If not for them, we wouldn’t be vying for this championship.”
Ian-Jay Cabanilla, the Maui Interscholastic League rushing champion, put the final touches on the score with a 9-yard touchdown run with 1:54 to play.
Cabanilla, one of several Lunas to play both ways most of the game, grabbed the Lunas’ ninth takeaway — their seventh interception — and returned it 24 yards to set up the final five-play, 25-yard scoring drive.
“The last couple weeks we’ve been working so hard trying to get things executed, do our jobs right, stay humble and do it efficiently,” said Cabanilla, who had two of Lahainaluna’s seven interceptions and ran the ball 18 times for 44 bruising yards and the final TD. “That alone helped all of us, not just me. It really helped all of us.”
Blare Sylva-Viela led the Lunas with 100 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown rushing, while also having eight tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception on defense.
He recalled the 2017 Division II state final at Aloha Stadium that he watched as a youngster when the Lunas outlasted Konawaena 75-69 in seven overtimes.
“We are so tired, it was a long game, and we’re all tired,” Sylva-Viela said. “We were thinking about the last time we played Konawaena — we had that going through our minds, but we’re tired. We’ll be ready to go next week.”
Sylva-Viela gave credit to the Lunas’ defense, like just about everyone else did.
“Defense, you know, we executed properly, we studied and we played our hearts out,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Lahainaluna used its eighth takeaway of the game — an interception by Christian Clarion that gave them the ball on the Konawaena 39-yard line — to push the lead to 23-7.
Anatello Flores kicked his third field goal of the game, a 30-yarder, to give the Lunas a 16-point lead with 7:04 to play. Flores also led the Lunas defense with nine tackles and an interception.
The Lunas were opportunistic in scoring their first two touchdowns. The first came when place-kick holder Kuola Watson scampered 20 yards around the left end to score after he mishandled the snap on a 36-yard field-goal try.
The Wildcats tied the score after marching 68 yards in nine plays and scoring on a 2-yard run by Kawelu Kaiawe.
Konawaena had the ball on its own 32-yard line moments later when a snap sailed over the head of quarterback Keoki Alani and Lahainaluna lineman Lance Morikawa out-raced Alani to recover the ball on the Wildcats’ 1-yard line.
Sylva-Viela dove into the end zone on the next play to make it 14-7 Lunas.
Another opportunity presented itself when Cabanilla intercepted an Alani pass on the next possession and returned it 21 yards to the Kona 14-yard line.
Flores pushed the lead to 17-7 with a 19-yard field goal seven plays later.
The Lunas’ defense came up big again on the next drive when the Wildcats reached the Lunas’ 4-yard line. Lahainaluna’s Kahi Magno picked off a fourth-down pass and returned it 50 yards to the Wildcats’ 48-yard line.
Lahainaluna gave the ball right back on a fumble on the next play, but the Lunas forced a turnover for the fourth straight Wildcats possession and cashed it in for another field goal, this time a 30-yarder by Flores, to make it 20-7 with 1:48 in left in the first half.
Kuola Watson gave the Lunas the ball with an interception, and they marched 76 yards in 11 plays. The key plays in the drive were a 1-yard run by quarterback Noa Gordon out of punt formation on fourth-and-1 from the Lunas’ 40 and two plays later a 40-yard run by Clarion to the Kona 19-yard line.
Late in the half, the Lunas used a 49-yard pass play from Gordon to Noah Garcia to reach the Wildcats’ 20-yard line, but Flores missed a 41-yard field-goal try on the final play of the second quarter.
“Obviously we turned the ball over way too much,” Konawaena coach Brad Uemoto said. “The turnovers at the beginning set the tone up front and hurt us a lot. Execution, we talked about that at halftime a little bit. We were still in the game at the half, and I felt we were one score away. We just couldn’t get that one score that could get us back in it.”
Uemoto was determined to hang with the top-seeded Lunas as long as possible.
“I was still aggressive in play calling and the defense played resilient at the end,” Uemoto said. “I told them, ‘I don’t care about stats. We’re just going to go out here and play this whole thing out like we’re going to win this thing. If we throw picks, we throw picks.’
“They sat back on passes obviously and they got more turnovers. I could care less about that. That’s a tribute to this group. That’s what they’ve been all year. They’ve just been fighters all year, and I wanted them to go out fighting.”
The Lunas have just six days before they will be back on the field, trying for a fifth straight state title, but the first one at the D-I level.
“Offensively, as you can see, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Rickard said. “No excuse, we’ve got to sustain our blocks, we’ve got to minimize our mistakes and we got to stop giving them turnovers. So, yeah, we got one more game left, but a lot of work to do.”
* Robert Collias is at [email protected]
Konawaena 7 0 0 0– 7
Lahainaluna 14 6 0 10–30
LL–Kuola Watson 20 run (Anatello Flores kick), 9:40.
Kona–Kawelu Kaiawe 2 run (Roonui Satta Ellis kick), 6:56.
LL–Blare Sylva-Viela 1 run (Flores kick), 3:45.
LL–FG Flores 19, 11:56.
LL–FG Flores 30, 1:48.
LL–FG Flores 30, 7:04.
LL–Ian-Jay Cabanilla 9 run (Flores kick), 1:54.
First downs 17 12
Rushes-yards 29-42 58-279
Passing yards 190 50
Total offense 232 329
Return yards 108 14
Comp-Att-Int 22-47-7 4-6-1
Fumbles-lost 4-3 2-1
Penalties-yards 4-20 7-79
Punts-avg 3-39.7 5-31.6
RUSHING–Konawaena, Kaiawe 19-78, Maui Ellis Noa 1-6, Keawe Navas Loa 1-2, Keoki Alani 7-(minus 14), team 1-(minus 30). Lahainaluna, Sylva-Viela 17-100, Christian Clarion 4-72, Cabanilla 18-44, TJ Borges 7-40, Watson 1-20, Noa Gordon 6-7, team 1-(minus 1); Lyrik Kahula 1-(minus 1); Kaulana Tihada 3-(minus 2).
PASSING–Konawaena, Alani 22-47-7–190. Lahainaluna, Gordon 4-6-1–50.
RECEIVING–Konawaena, Kamaehu Makanui 10-86, Satta Ellis 6-37, Landon Daquel-Shimabukuro 4-27, Isaac Clement 2-40. Lahainaluna, Noah Garcia 1-46, Clarion 1-6, Cabanilla 1-0, Borges 1-(minus 2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS–Lahainaluna, Flores 33 (SH), 41 (SH).
FIRST HAWAIIAN BANK STATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Friday’s Results • Semifinals
No. 1 Lahainaluna 30, No. 4 Konawaena 7
No. 2 Iolani 21, No. 3 Aiea 0
Thursday’s Game • Championship
No. 1 Lahainaluna vs. No. 2 Iolani, 4 p.m.
Wednesday’s Games • Semifinals
No. 1 Kapaa vs. No. 4 Hawaii Prep, 3 p.m.
No. 3 Kamehameha Maui vs. No. 2 Kaiser, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 30 • Championship
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
Today’s Games • Semifinals
No. 1 Kahuku vs. Campbell, 4 p.m.
No. 2 Saint Louis vs. Mililani, 7 p.m.
Thursday’s Game • Championship
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.