LAHAINA - The 2011 season for the Lahainaluna High School football team has unfolded like a rookie race car struggling through a high stakes race.
Injuries and inexperience - there are several freshmen and sophomores dotting the starting lineups on both sides of the ball - resulted in wheels falling off for the offense throughout the season when opportunities arose to take the lead.
The sputtering engine continued to cough down the stretch of the Maui Interscholastic League regular season leading into the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II playoff game against Konawaena last Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
BJ Pagdilao-Bala runs the ball against Konawaena during the first quarter. Photo by Denton Johnson.
But the drive shaft of this Luna formula race car is, as it always is, the defense. Lahainaluna forced eight turnovers - seven interceptions and a fumble - and recorded a safety to turn back the Big Island D-II champs by a score of 23-6 before a sparse crowd on a cool, full moon evening in Wailuku.
The Lunas, 7-4 on the season, will now travel to Oahu to face second-seeded Waipahu at the Marauders' field on Friday night, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
The Oahu Interscholastic Association White Division champs from Waipahu enjoyed the first round bye in the six-team tournament format, and now will take to their home field to face the Lunas.
On the brighter side for the Lahainaluna faithful, the Lunas offense showed flashes of brilliance to take advantage of the field position they were afforded by the defense to score just enough to keep the Wildcats at bay, and were able to grind down the clock to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
It was the formula that the Lunas pretty much used the entire season to rack up their fifth consecutive MIL title, and the defense will no doubt be a crucial factor this Friday night. If Lahainaluna prevails, they will face the winner of the Iolani-Kapaa match-up on Saturday.
The D-II championship game will be played at Aloha Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, with kickoff set for 4 p.m.