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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveAugust 14, 2022, 12:04am
Sat, Aug 13, 2022 @ Wong Stadium [ 6:00 pm ]
HILO, Hawaii — The eighth-ranked Lahainaluna football team faced quite the test on the road Saturday night.
After a bit of a shaky start to the contest, the Lunas found their groove with a 21-point second quarter en route to a 28-20 win over unranked Hilo in a non-league game before a crowd of about 1,200 fans on a humid evening at Dr. Francis Wong Stadium.
It was the season opener for both the Lunas (1-0) and Vikings (0-1).
Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard was appreciative of the adversity that his team faced against an outmanned, but feisty Hilo squad that held leads of 3-0 and 10-6 in the first half.
"They only had like, I think, 30 guys suited and I know they were lacking some personnel, but it's the same Hilo team as usual: very ferocious, well coached and it was definitely what we expected, especially from a team like Hilo," Rickard said. "They're a high-caliber team, they came to play and this was a great opportunity for us to really get a gauge as to where we're at."
The Lunas ran for 305 of their 432 yards of total offense. Kaulana Tihada shouldered most of the workload with 25 of his team's 46 total carries, including 16 of those coming after halftime, when he tallied 103 of his 169 rushing yards. Ian-Jay Cabanilla racked up 132 yards from scrimmage, including 109 rushing yards on just eight carries, and 178 all-purpose yards.
Cabanilla, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior, said the 38-0 loss to Iolani in last December's Division I state championship game has provided all the motivation needed for the Lunas this year.
"After a tough loss against Iolani last year, we had to make a comeback this year and work even harder during the summer and offseason," said Cabanilla, who caught a touchdown pass from Lyrik Kahula on the final play of the first half Saturday; He also scored on a long run in the third quarter.
Cabanilla also tipped his cap to the Vikings, who were two points away from winning the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I crown and securing a spot in the state tournament last year.
"They're a tough team, I give them that," Cabanilla said. "But our boys are down to dig deep in the fourth quarter and hold them and yeah, we came out strong at the end."
The first half was a different story, however — most of it, anyway.
Lahainaluna turned it over three times in the first 15-plus minutes of the game. Its first possession resulted in an interception after Hilo's Thomas Marcellino undercut a Kahula pass at the Vikings' 2-yard line and returned it 26 yards. It eventually led to Tre Nelson-Langacker's first of two 38-yard field goals on the night, which gave Hilo a 3-0 lead with one minute and 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
The teams traded scores midway through the second quarter when Tihada turned the corner for a 9-yard touchdown run. Just three plays after that, however, the Vikings answered with a 56-yard scoring strike from Kaohu Kaluna to Kayden Silva, who got behind a pair of Lahainaluna defensive backs on the play. That score put Hilo back ahead, 10-6, with 5:32 until halftime.
The Lunas marched downfield on their ensuing drive, but fumbled near the goal line and Marcellino recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Hilo's offense was unable to do anything with it, however, and went three-and-out. Lahainaluna returned the favor after Noa Gordon's pass was intercepted in the end zone by Marcellino for another touchback.
Still, the Lunas held on defense and got the ball back with 36 seconds left, just beyond midfield. Four plays later, on a third-and-1, Kahula found Avery Baybayan in the back left corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Josese Kaina ran in the ensuing two-point conversion to reclaim the lead for Lahainaluna, 14-10.
Baybayan kept momentum on the side of the Lunas by recovering the ensuing onside kick. That gave his team possession at the Hilo 25-yard line with just 5.9 seconds left in the half. After a short run by Kahula, a late flag was thrown for an unsportsmanlike conduction penalty against the Vikings, which gave Lahainaluna an untimed down.
The Lunas made them pay, as Kahula fired a bullet that initially appeared to be deflected before it found a waiting Cabanilla in the end zone for another touchdown.
"It wasn't deflected, (but) it was close to his hands, but yeah, (Kahula) threw a good ball," Cabanilla said.
Lahainaluna's 15 points in the final 9.2 seconds of the first half gave the visitors a boost going into the break.
"It gave us a lot of momentum," Cabanilla agreed. "It gave us more confidence to push it and dig deep and finish the game strong."
Hilo interim coach Ed Rocha pointed to the sequence as the difference in the ball game.
"Well, if it wasn't for that last minute of the first half, where we had some mistakes," pondered Rocha, who has spent 45 years coaching prep football, including 18 seasons as head coach at Waiakea.
"Our guys started to hang their heads. I told them, ‘Eh, we can't do that. One or two big plays and we're ahead in this game ahead,' but they kept fighting. They kept fighting," Rocha added.
After Aukai Hokoana tacked on the extra point, Lahainaluna's lead stood at 21-10 at the intermission.
Hilo cut it to 21-17 after it drove 57 yards in nine plays to open the second half, capped by Xiah Kanae's 3-yard touchdown run.
Cabanilla again made it a two-score game with his 47-yard touchdown run with 7:21 left in the game.
The Vikings pulled to within 28-20 with Nelson-Langacker's second 38-yard field goal with four minutes to play, but never got the ball back as the Lunas converted three first downs on the game's final drive to close it out.
"Lahaina is known for not how they start, but how they finish the game and how we finished tonight's game is the way we wanted to," Cabanilla said.
Rocha said there is one definitive trait that separates the Lunas from the rest.
"Discipline," he said. "They're disciplined. I don't think there's any other team more disciplined than them."
Lahainaluna averaged 9.8 yards per rush with nine different ball carries Saturday, while its quarterbacks completed 10 of their 13 attempts for 127 yards.
Defensively, the Lunas held Hilo to 254 yards of total offense, including only 93 yards through the air from Kaluna, who finished 7-of-16 passing; Kaluna was also his team's leading rusher with 82 yards on 14 carries.
"Why we wanted to play Hilo is because they're a passing team and being the caliber that they are — having been to the postseason a lot — we wanted to go up against them and see where we're at with defending the pass and they showed it tonight," said Rickard, whose team opens Maui Interscholastic League play against Maui High next Saturday.
He went on, "We've got a lot of corrections to make defensively as well, but it was great competition and hats off to them. They played hard and as you can see by the score, this game was back and forth throughout the entire four quarters, so it was a great preparation game, not only for us, but I hope for them as well."
The Lunas will host Maui (1-0), a 17-0 winner over Nanakuli Friday night, at Sue D. Cooley Stadium Saturday.
Hilo will open BIIF play against Kealakehe (0-1) Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Paiea Stadium on the Kamehameha-Hawaii campus.
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