The case for Lahainaluna football
“Don’t be sad that it’s over; be glad that you’re here,” said Lahainaluna High School co-head football coach Garret Tihada in his address to the Luna team in the Aloha Stadium locker room following a 27-13 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Kamehameha Kapalama in the 2004 HSAA playoffs.
Indeed, it is a message of deep wisdom once again for the players, coaches and the ever-loyal community fan base after Lahainaluna was denied the coveted state football championship it has been pursuing for over a decade in a 31-14 defeat at the hands of their traditional nemesis Iolani on Nov. 21 at Aloha Stadium.
The Lunas were riding high as the state’s top-rated Division II team throughout the season, primed to finally make the final push to the top of the mountain following a 52-7 pounding of Kamehameha Schools Hawaii in the semis the week before.
It was not to be.
Lahainaluna’s phenomenal senior quarterback and defensive back, Sione Filikitonga, injured his throwing hand the week before. Thus, the Luna offense became a one-dimensional running attack.
This would be akin to a basketball team being unable to shoot from the outside, enabling its opponent to pack its defense in the paint to deny lay-ups and drives inside the key. This is what Iolani was able to do against the Lunas, as they loaded the box with eight and nine defenders with their cornerbacks playing close to the line of scrimmage as well. Lahainaluna was unable to sustain any sort of offensive continuity, and the Raiders’ precision offense took control early in the contest and never looked back. Ball control is extremely important.
I have no doubt that if the Luna offense was operating at full strength, they would have beaten Iolani. Filikitonga has a strong arm – he hit a 42-yard bomb for a touchdown in the Kamehameha win – and his scrambling ability would have kept the Raiders off-balance. Iolani would have been forced to play their defensive backs deeper, their linebackers looser, and this would have spread and stretched their defense and opened up running lanes for Lahainaluna.
It is my belief that we have a higher power at work here. How else do we explain the 2006 debacle in this same scenario – state final versus Iolani – and we lose two of our top defensive backs to injuries in the first four minutes of the game? The Raiders exploited the advantage to win. Or the 2012 final against Iolani in which the Lunas have the lead with a minute-and-a-half to play, we intercept a pass but lose the ball, and the Raiders take it down the field for the winning score.
There’s a famous quote that goes something like this: “The end is not the important thing; it’s the journey that really matters.” And this is what Luna nation needs to realize – that, yes, the sickening feeling of defeat at this highest level is tough to take, but we can, and we will, move forward.
The loss will soon pale in the light of this season’s lopsided wins over Baldwin, the tough Maui High victories, the precision dismantling of Kamehamaha, and, perhaps most of all, the sendoff rally along Lahainaluna Road with police escort, fire truck, fireworks, banners, kids and families from all over the island lining the street and all.
It all combines to form an unforgettable life memory that will serve to strengthen and bond the collective character of the West Side community.
Now, the 25 Luna seniors will embark on their life journeys standing tall with the backbone of dedication, discipline and sportsmanship that are the tenants of Lahainaluna football forged throughout the school’s history by coaches such as Norman Oda, Henry “Bruno” Ariyoshi, Bobby Matsumoto, Lanny Tihada, Bobby Watson and Garret Tihada. They will find their own pathway and perhaps return to Maui to become the next Dean Rickard, Kekoa Mowat, Sonnie Waiohu, Kawika Casco or Jansen Medeiros – the next deputy police chief, business executive, fireman or police officer – to pay forward the integrity of Lahaina life after being a part of the Lahainaluna football program.
They will start their own families and thus propagate exponentially the strength of our community – this most important breath of life, this vital component of true happiness. They are all champions of character.
This is a beautiful thought, isn’t it?