Raiders get big push from defensive line


POSTED: Saturday, December 06, 2008

At 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, Sealii Epenesa should fit right in on a defensive line.

But when that line is ‘Iolani’s, Epenesa sticks out like a sore thumb.

A rare 300-pound lineman for the Raiders, Epenesa did more than just stand out because of his size. The junior was a one-man wrecking crew, finishing with 10 tackles, including four for a loss, and one and a half sacks in ‘Iolani’s 35-20 victory last night to win its second consecutive Division II state championship at Aloha Stadium.

“I just wanted to bring a little flavor to ‘Iolani, you know what I mean,” he said.

Epenesa has brought a physical run-stopping presence that has been lacking in recent years for the Raiders. Alongside junior Kaena Moose, the two helped hold the Rams to 67 rushing yards on 33 carries for a measly 2.0 average.

“We just executed our plays,” Epenesa said. “We have a great defense. Everybody does their part. We’re one team, and that’s how we do it.”

The Rams caught the Raiders off guard for a touchdown in the first 14 seconds and another on the final play of the game. And despite holding a 2-1 advantage in time of possession and running 37 more plays, Radford couldn’t do much else.

“We prepared ourselves in the offseason and condition ourselves to play four quarters,” Epenesa said. “We play all the way to the end and we don’t stop until the last whistle in the game.”

Radford was averaging more than 100 yards rushing a game and ‘Iolani yielded 114. But after Radford’s one-play (a pass) scoring drive to start, ‘Iolani clamped down and frustrated the Rams offense. Running back Phil Hogan had only 35 yards on 10 carries and mobile quarterback Mosiah Manuma was sacked four times and had negative yardage on 12 carries.

“We stopped them,” Moose said. “It’s just what the coaches said, to finish. We were just faster than them.”

The Raiders have now won three Division II state championships in the past four years and will again be favored next year.

The defense loses four starters, including talented defensive backs Breland Almadova and Kela Marciel, who each had a touchdown last night, but return all four starters up front, including Epenesa, who is on the verge of becoming a special player.

“He’s believing he can become a dominant player,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “He’s worked hard, he has a great attitude, and he and Moose did a great job inside stopping the run.”