PEARL CITY — Reigning Division II state champ Lahainaluna bounced back from a first quarter deficit to topple host Pearl City for a 20-7 non-league win Saturday night in both teams' season opener.
The Lunas, the top-ranked team in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric D2 Football Power Rankings, scored 20 unanswered points to deny the fifth-ranked Chargers their first win at the newly renovated Bino Neves Stadium.
It was the second time in as many years that the two teams faced off to start the year. Pearl City traveled to Lahainaluna's Sue D. Cooley Stadium in 2016, but struggled to make the game competitive in a 29-0 loss. This year was a different story as the Lunas (1-0) were tested by the Chargers' physicality.
"Pearl City, they gave us one helluva of a battle," said Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada. "That's all we really needed at this point. It showed our kids that we got to get back to our fundamentals and make sure we take care of the little things."
The Chargers (0-1) put the Lunas against the ropes very early in the night. Lahainaluna forced a Pearl City punt on the first series of the game, but turned it over on its first play from scrimmage when Etuati Storer was picked off by Aidan Fernandes to give Pearl City possession at the Lunas' 37. After eight plays, which included a 21-yard screen pass to Kobe Jackson, Isaiah Asinsin scored on a 1-yard sneak to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period.
After giving up the Pearl City score, the Lunas adjusted their defense to counteract what the Chargers were running. Lahainaluna brought down one of its safeties into the box to help with run support and was able to hold Pearl City scoreless the rest of the way. The Lunas' defense was also able to record three interceptions and a fumble recovery while forcing two turnovers on downs.
"Today was a battle," said Lahainaluna defensive back Siale Hafoka, who recorded the first pick for the Lunas. "The first quarter, we came out and thought we were hot (stuff), but they put us in our place. They're a good team, hopefully we see them in states."
The first turnover on downs that the Lahainaluna defense forced set up the team's first score of the game. The Lunas drove 61 yards in 11 plays and scored on a 6-yard touchdown run around right end by Joshua Tihada with 3:16 remaining in the first half. Lahainaluna was unable to tie the game, however, as the ensuing snap on the PAT resulted in a busted play that left the score 7-6 at the break.
Lahainaluna was a much different team in the second half. The Lunas received the kickoff to start the third quarter and never looked back, scoring on a 33-yard sweep by Elijah Ragudo to take the lead for good, 12-7, within the first three minutes of the period.
The defending champions added to their lead one drive later with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was aided by three Pearl City penalties. Storer's 6-yard keeper up the gut and Ragudo's 2-point run gave Lahainaluna its final score of the game with 2:38 to play in the third quarter.
Pearl City coach Robin Kami was pleased with his team's effort against the Lunas.
"In the first half, I thought we did a good job of stopping this (well-oiled machine) of an offense," said Kami. "The second half, you have to give credit to Lahainaluna's offense, the coaches, the players, making good adjustments and shutting us down."
However, Kami wasn't happy about the number of penalties that his team committed. The Chargers had just 140 yards of total offense but didn't do themselves any favors as they committed 14 fouls that resulted in 129 penalty yards. At one point in the fourth quarter, Pearl City had more yardage in penalties than it did in total offense.
"I'm not sure what was going on, but hopefully we'll correct that Monday at practice," said Kami, who expects there to be more running and conditioning next week. "I don't like that with the personal fouls, any offsides, any penalties, we don't want that so we have to correct that ASAP."
While penalties is something that Kami will make sure gets fixed in the next week, the fifth-year coach is willing to be patient with Asinsin's development at quarterback. Asinsin previously played receiver before making the move to handle throwing duties.
"I know it's going to take time for him to really know this position because it's not an easy position to learn, so I'm hoping his maturity is going to come around towards the end (of the season)," said Kami.
Storer led the Lunas in rushing in the win, totaling 41 yards on 14 carries. Tuipolotu Lai was the leading defender for Lahainaluna with 4.5 tackles and a strip sack.
Kasey Kikuyama led the Chargers in the loss with eight carries for 56 yards while tacking on three tackles and an interception on defense.
Lahainaluna hosts Kamehameha (1-0) next Saturday in its final tune up before the regular season while Pearl City begins Oahu Interscholastic Association play against Kalani at home.
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