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Seniors play key role in Luna football team’s playoff run

By Staff | Nov 12, 2015

Senior players include (from left): front — Chris Kaniho, Ivan Uphold Pante, Brandon Sadang, Ronnie Espiritu and Augustus Jun Ehsa; back row — Junior Moala, Kiakahi Kenolio, Saia Tupola, Nau Filiai, Jabe Oliver, Dylan Delatori and JD Rosario (Epoki Vakalani is not pictured).

LAHAINA – It is the homestretch of the 2015 high school football season and, for the ninth consecutive year, the Lahainaluna High School Lunas are one of the last teams standing in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state playoffs.

The Red Tide from the West Side is the fourth seed in the First Hawaiian Bank HHSAA state playoff for Division II.

On Saturday night, they beat Oahu Interscholastic Association White Division runner-up and fifth seed Kaimuki. The final score was 7-0.

This first round contest at Sue D. Cooley Stadium on the historic Lahainaluna campus represented a first-ever playoff game under the lights here on the West Side.

The young and scrappy Lunas had exceeded expectations at every turn of the season to record a ninth straight D-II championship and the opportunity to host a HHSAA playoff game on their home turf.

The defense did it again for the Lahainaluna High School football team in the quarter-final matchup against Kaimuki of the Oahu Interscholastic Association last Saturday night before a Red Tide sell-out crowd of over 3,000 fans at Sue D. Cooley Stadium on campus with a 7-0 shutout of the fifth-seeded Bulldogs. While the offense sputtered, it was the Lunas’ defensive unit, the Maui Interscholastic League leader in this category, that saved the day with big stops throughout the game. The offense had just enough to muster up an 80-yard drive to score the only points of the contest in the second quarter to punch the Lunas’ ticket to their sixth consecutive Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state semi-final playoff game. The Lunas will travel to Kauai this Saturday to take on the Kapaa Wildcats in a rematch of a preseason matchup that the Garden Isle team won by a score of 13-10. Last Saturday night’s game was a historic milestone, as it was the first state football playoff contest ever played here on the West Side. PHOTO BY GLEN PASCUAL.

The team finished the Maui Interscholastic League season with a 5-4 record, climaxed by a stirring 14-10 championship playoff win over Kamehameha Maui two weeks ago at War Memorial Stadium to secure the bid to the state playoffs.

As is generally the case, the season-long effort on the gridiron – most importantly in the weight room – by this Lahainaluna team was led by a solid group of senior student athletes. Nau Filiai, Junior Moala, Ivan Uphold Pante, Saia Tupola, Chris Kaniho, Dylan “Boy-San” Delatori, Jabe Oliver, JD Rosario, Ronnie Espiritu, Brandon Sadang, Augustus Jun Ehsa, Kiakahi Kenolio and Epoki Vakalahi formed the core group that inspired the surging Lunas throughout the season.

Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, several senior standouts paved the way to the championship season for the Lunas.

Co-head coach and defensive coordinator Bobby Watson, the dean of MIL mentors, guided Lahainaluna to the top of every defensive categorical statistic to once again prove the time worn pigskin adage, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”

The Luna defense, led by Moala, Filiai, Uphold Pante, Tupola and Rosario, held firm and came up with crucial stops in every Lahainaluna victory, as the sometimes brilliant offensive unit sputtered and blew off several of their own toes in those tight games.

Speaking of the senior Lunas, co-head coach Garret Tihada complimented the group for their sustained dedication, not only during the season but in the summer months of weight training.

“These seniors always gave a good effort and were fun to be around due to their level-headed personalities. They worked really hard in the offseason, and they’ve given their all during this up and down year we’ve had. I hope now they will understand that they will carry the values of hard work and dedication to a team effort into their future endeavors. We thank them for all the time and effort they’ve put in, and we really appreciate what they have contributed to the team effort.”

The Luna coaching staff and players also sent their gratitude to the senior team managers that included Ryah “Coke Float” Kaniho, Ana Talaroc Kaniho, Asti Arcangel, Malia Flores and Gunner Oliver.

Imua Lunas! Aloha seniors!