Open Mic
Defense the unsung hero in Menes' title win

Moanalua's run to the OIA Division I title last Saturday night had a lot of key moments in crunch time.

There was Dacryes tip-drill touchdown catch that tied the game at 20-all in the the second overtime period.

Then there was Griffin Motas' game-winning PAT.

And don't forget the three missed kicks by Leilehua.

But loss in the narrative was a rock-solid effort by the defense that kept Na Menehune in a position to come out on top all night long.

In its 21-20 championship win, the Moanalua defense broke up seven passes, recorded five tackles for loss and tallied four interceptions.

Moanalua's Christian Sison runs back his second interception of the game.

Although the Leilehua offense nearly doubled the amount of production of the Moanalua offense, 403 to 208, Na Menehune’s defense stood strong when it mattered the most.

On eight trips to the red zone, the Mules could only score on three tries. Moanalua’s defense also shined on fourth down, with Leilehua turning it over on downs on all three attempts.

The statistics are even more astounding when you consider the fact that Na Menehune were down to its third-string quarterback before the end of the third quarter.

“Defense played lights out,” said Moanalua coach Savaii Eselu. “They fought through nicks and bruises and stuff. Defense did an amazing job. They held us up when we lost our trigger man, then when we brought in our next man, we lost that trigger man, but defense is amazing. Defense was awesome.”

The Moanalua defense combines to gang-tackle Leilehua running back Jamil Vereen.

Moanalua’s defense set the tone from the get-go.

On the opening drive of the game, Alex Tialavea-Malepeai forced a fumble on star running back Jamil Vereen that was recovered by Chase Tau at the Leilehua 19-yard line.

Later in the first quarter, Christian Sison came down with his first interception of the night to set up a Moanalua’s second scoring drive.

Starting quarterback RJ Javar scored on an 8-yard run on the first play of the second quarter to make it a 14-0 game, but was loss to an injury on the play.

Although the Moanalua offense did not score until the second overtime period, the defense did all they could to keep Leilehua at bay.

Rashod Tanner came up with Na Menehune’s second interception on the ensuing drive after Javar’s scoring run.

Moanalua's Rashod Tanner tracks down a pass thrown by Leilehua quarterback Kekoa Turangan.

Leilehua’s next drive ended in a punt after the Mules crossed over into Moanalua territory for the first time of the game.

The Mules reached the Moanalua 1-yard line on their penultimate drive of the first half, but turned it over on downs after a personal foul, a third-down sack Rodley Nelson and two incomplete passes.

Sison recorded Na Menehune’s third interception of the evening on Leilehua’s final drive of the second quarter, which left the score at 14-0 heading into the break.

Leilehua also turned it over on downs on its first drive of the second half after three straight incompletions by Kekoa Turangan. Jesus Lopez Jr. broke up a pass, Keona Kihune had a quarterback hurry on third down and Aukai Grace had the coverage on fourth down.

Moanalua's Jesus Lopez Jr. breaks up a pass intended for Leilehua's Jayzon Ramos.

The Mules managed to find the end zone on their next drive, but Moanalua stopped the bleeding after a bad offensive series when Grace came down with an interception in the end zone.

Grace also came up big on Leilehua’s first drive of the fourth quarter, stepping up in pass coverage on fourth down with the Mules at the Moanalua 4-yard line.

Leilehua tied the game on the next drive after starting at the Moanalua 17-yard line and had first-and-goal with a chance to win late in the game, but the defense buckled down to force a field goal attempt, which hit the left upright as time expired to send the game to overtime.

Na Menehune turned it over on an interception to start the overtime period — but once again — defense did its job. Leilehua had to attempt a field goal to win the game in overtime, but missed wide left to send it to the second overtime period.

The Mules would score on their first running play after regulation to go up 20-14, but a missed PAT and clutch plays by third-string quarterback Brayden Faamasino, Domingo and Motas gave Na Menehune the title.

Moanalua will likely receive a first round bye in the five-team state tournament, which starts on Nov. 15.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].



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