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'Iolani pulled through with second-half adjustment


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POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

There was a look on coach Wendell Look's face that said it all.

Not just for him or the rest of the 'Iolani coaching staff, but probably for all of Raider nation. With seconds left in the first half, after his team's sixth turnover—a fumble deep in Kauai's red zone—Look's frustration had simmered. He seemed perplexed rather than mad.

He also had a bit of a grin. That was understandable because despite all those giveaways, top-seeded 'Iolani was in a 10-all tie with second-seeded Kauai going into the locker room in the Division II final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships.

“;We went in and I told the coaches, 'It's not anything to do with the schemes.' I just didn't know what it was. I left it up to them—the players,”; Look said. “; 'You guys want it? This is yours. You guys figure out what to do.' And we walked out.”;

'Iolani (12-2), the high-flying, no-huddle run-and-shoot program overachieving for years without great size and depth, went back to basics: steady defense and a solid ground attack.

The Raiders survived and held on for a 24-17 win, their third D-II state title in a row and fourth in five seasons.

“;They took care of it,”; Look said. “;They figured out how to get it done.”;

Led by Seali'i Epenesa (five tackles) and Kaena Moose up front, and linebacker Cody Petro-Sakuma (five tackles), the Raiders limited Kauai to 225 yards; Kauai averaged 343 per game coming into the title game. Defensive back Reid Saito's penchant for big plays continued with a pick 6.

“;I'm proud of them. They earned it,”; Look said. “;The seniors wanted to be the first to three-peat. They put some high goals and expectations on themselves, and put some pressure on themselves to live up to it. Last night's game epitomized the character and toughness of this team to overcome eight turnovers and win a state championship game.”;

'Iolani was the only team to give Kamehameha a loss. Kamehameha regrouped from that early defeat and won its last nine games, including the D-I state final against Kahuku on Friday.

Kauai (10-1) rushed for just 21 yards, well below its norm of 140 per game. Running back Paleku Yasay ran for 36 yards on 12 carries. Red Raiders quarterback Trey Shimabukuro went 21-for-43 for 204 passing yards.

“;Two years ago, they ran the same defense,”; Shimabukuro said of a semifinal loss to 'Iolani in 2007. “;It worked then and it worked now. They have athletes.”;

'Iolani quarterback Jarrett Arakawa overcame a rough first half (three interceptions) and passed for 251 yards (22-for-30). His favorite target, Trevyn Tulonghari, pulled in eight passes for 134 yards. Ammon Baldomero, who fumbled twice in the first half, finished strong and had 108 rushing yards on 34 carries.

“;You gotta give Kauai credit for being aggressive and relentless,”; Look said.

Kauai's defense, with a three-man front and mix of coverages, got a big game from outside linebacker Travis Koga (15 tackles). A speedy, physical unit trained by defensive coordinator Mike Tresler to strip the football away came up with four fumbles and four interceptions, including three picks by Cameron Largusa.

“;They adjusted. 'Iolani's very disciplined,”; said Tresler, a former UH safety. “;We didn't stop them on third down enough. All year, we gave our offense better field position. That was the biggest difference.”;

Middle linebacker Jamen Kealoha-Albarado (6-foot, 195) spent much of the game deciphering 'Iolani's misdirections and had five tackles.

“;They ran the ball more in the second half and we couldn't stop it,”; Kealoha-Albarado said. “;We started picking it up too late.”;

Both teams have plenty of reloading to do with an exodus of senior starters. Kauai historically has fielded tough teams at the D-II level, but likely won't have this combination of defensive athletes and a standout quarterback next fall. Still, the Red Raiders nearly pulled it off.

One fan came to Kauai coach Derek Borrero and said it well: “;You guys made Kauai proud tonight.”;

“;We feel proud,”; Kealoha-Albarado said. “;I feel proud. I think everybody's proud of what we did.”;