LAHAINA - As the Lahainaluna High School football players strolled out of their locker room for practice Tuesday, the focus on their faces was palpable.
The second-seeded Lunas (9-1) have a date with top-seeded Iolani (8-3) at 4 p.m. Friday at Aloha Stadium in the championship game of the First Hawaiian Bank Division II state tournament.
The Lunas advanced to the state semifinals last season - they have been at least that far three straight years and five of the last six - and then last week got their first taste of Aloha Stadium since losing the 2007 final 28-21 to Iolani.
Lahainaluna’s offense will center around sophomore quarterback Sione Filikitonga in Friday’s First Hawaiian Bank State Football Division II?championship game at Aloha Stadium. The Lunas face off against five-time defending champ Iolani at 4 p.m.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
On Saturday, Lahainaluna chalked up its seventh shutout of the season, 28-0 over Nanakuli.
"That is immeasurable because we still have a relatively young team, a bunch of of sophomores still getting exposed, playing in Aloha Stadium, so that is great for them and the team," said Lunas co-head coach Garret Tihada. "Offensively, I wasn't pleased at all, we had a lot of things we had to clean up, but we let them walk around before the game, soak it all in. Once the game started, maybe one of our players at the most, was not really in awe, but maybe shell-shocked still. Other than that, everybody else was good to go."
The Red Raiders are the five-time defending champions, meaning plenty of experience on the state's biggest stage.
First Hawaiian Bank state Football
Friday's Championship Games At Aloha Stadium
Punahou vs. Kahuku, 7 p.m.
Lahainaluna vs. Iolani, 4 p.m.
"I don't think you can measure how valuable that is," Tihada said. "To be there constantly, that is a huge advantage."
The Lunas' defense has been the backbone of the team all season. They limited the Golden Hawks to minus-7 yards rushing on 21 carries and 139 yards in the air, more than half of which came late when the final outcome was no longer in doubt.
"Yeah, one more shutout," Tihada said. "You couldn't ask for anything more. You get a shutout, that's a guaranteed win. Not only that, but they gave us short fields to work on offensively. Field-position wise, it is huge having our defense play the way they have all year."
Lahainaluna created four turnovers and committed none against Nanakuli, upping its season margin to 29-9. Tytus Lucas picked off two passes, retuning one for a touchdown, and has eight interceptions this season.
The Lunas held the ball for 28 minutes, 51 seconds.
Iolani is known for being a solid passing team, but this year is averaging 119.6 yards per game on the ground, and 349.7 yards of total offense.
"They run the ball pretty good," Tihada said. "We have been watching a bunch of film on them, so (co-head coach Bobby Watson) is going to come up with a scheme for them. The main thing is, you take away what they do best. That is not the run, but they are a very, very efficient running team."
Tihada said that defensive linemen Samiuela Filiai and Pousima Galoia are both "very, very questionable for this game" with injuries.
Offensively the Lunas will rely on sophomore quarterback Sione Filikitonga, who will be making his third start since being called up from the junior varsity in October. Filikitonga is 13-for-19 for 297 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in wins over Maui High and Nanakuli.
Previous starter Kiko Kohler-Fonohema has moved to receiver, both wide and in the slot, and played several snaps as a safety last week.
"Defensively, they swarm to the ball," Tihada said of Iolani. "They are not the biggest guys in the state, but they are very, very quick, so we have got to make sure that No. 1, we hold on to the ball. No. 2 - this may too simple - but basically, we have got to execute. Our job on offense, No. 1, we want to score points, but No. 2 we have to keep their offense off of the field as much as possible."
Tihada emphasized that Iolani is better than anyone the Lunas have seen all season.
"Oh, by far," he said. "Nobody comes close. Baldwin would be the closest - they match up size-wise, speed-wise - but to have that many skilled players on the field at one time, we haven't seen that this whole year."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.