HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Iolani's Lionel Fujioka scored on a 71-yard touchdown reception in the semifinals against Kauai.
Iolani, Lahainaluna ready to put on a show
Power and finesse aren't exactly opposites.
They are just different means to the same goal: a state title. When Lahainaluna and Iolani clash tomorrow in the final of the Division II First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA state football championships, fans will see two programs that were more than just competitive against their D-I foes.
Lahainaluna had the lead and the football in the late going before losing in overtime to eventual Maui Interscholastic League D-I champion Baldwin.
Iolani's losing record is entirely deceptive. The Raiders survived the gantlet of Interscholastic League of Honolulu play and gave Saint Louis a mighty scare before losing, 49-34.
Racking up 34 against one of the state's top defensive units is not common, which is why Iolani fans have reason to be confident.
For Lahainaluna, the top seed in D-II, questions about a so-so MIL schedule were answered with a 52-20 win over OIA White champion Kaimuki last week.
Here's a look at the matchup:
Lahainaluna (9-1) vs. Iolani (5-6)
Bobby Watson, Lahainaluna; Wendell Look, Iolani.
On paper: Iolani won the state title two years ago, while Lahainaluna is in its first season of Division II. Lahainaluna upset Mililani three years ago and reached the D-I semifinals, losing to eventual state champ Kamehameha 21-7.
The Lunas love physical football, and their lineup quietly boasts a number of quality athletes. They have allowed just 9 points per game, including four shutouts, en route to a No. 6 ranking in the Star-Bulletin/KITV-4 Top 10 poll.
Lake Casco doubles at safety and wingback, excelling both ways. The precision-oriented Wing-T offense has blistered opponents at a rate of 37 points per game.
Iolani was on the cusp of the Top 10 until cracking the poll in mid-October. Though the Raiders have one of the most dangerous offenses in the state with Kela Marciel at quarterback, stopping the run has been a tough task for an undersized defense.
"Lahainaluna hasn't changed. They're disciplined, they execute well and they're tough as nails," Look said.
The skinny: The Lunas have not traveled off-island all season, which could be a disadvantage.
"The kids are excited about traveling. We're trying to bring 'em down a little," Watson said.
Iolani has played in Aloha Stadium several times and is familiar with the FieldTurf surface.
Watson has other concerns, though. "It's tough to simulate a no-huddle offense. We just don't pass the ball a lot," the longtime guru said. "They're tough like Baldwin. Both teams have speed and talent, but we haven't faced a quarterback like (Marciel)."
The speedy junior has been sometimes brilliant in the run-and-shoot, connecting with a posse of receivers led by Lionel Fujioka. His ability to scramble, however, is a defensive coordinator's nightmare.
"We're hoping we can contain him," Watson said. "It's a work in progress."
The last time Lahainaluna faced a scrambler as good as Marciel was two seasons ago, when Kalehua Moniz was Baldwin's quarterback. "This boy (Marciel) does a better job of reading coverages," Watson said.
Casco, meanwhile, ran with the ball, caught passes and even took one snap under center to score one of the touchdowns against Kaimuki.
Another two-way standout, Blaise Smith, is a key at linebacker and fullback. "We match up, size-wise. We're a small defensive team," Watson said.
Look expects his offense to be patient. "We take what the defense gives up. If they drop eight, we'll run. That's what the offense is geared for," he said.
Preparing for the Lunas' Wing T, though, is another story.
"You know, we use our starters to run our scout team. It's very tough to emulate the precision and speed they run it at," he said. "They do a lot of misdirection. They've got a whole set of explosive plays and can break things any time."
X factor: Iolani has seen a slightly different Wing T this season in two meetings with Waianae (a scrimmage and a nonconference game) and fared relatively well in a 22-19 loss.
A bigger issue is whether the Lunas contain Marciel. Will their 4-4 defense match up against Iolani's speedy slots and receivers? If the Lunas go conservative on defense, the onus of Iolani's offense falls on run-blocking execution and running back Justin Yamamoto, who rushed for 138 yards in the win over Kauai last week.