Posted with permission, article and pictures, courtesy of Bedrock Sports Hawaii
Story by: Nick Abramo
A season-opening 35-0 loss to Punahou on Saturday didn’t dampen Moanalua’s spirits.
Na Menehune had just played their first game as a ready-or-not Open Division (top-tier) school. Ask anyone in the know and they would say a loss to a private school power was going to be the likely scenario for just about any team moving up from Division I.
After hearing from players and coach Vince Nihipali afterward, there was a definite sense of “We’re going to continue to fight.”
You may think Na Menehune got hammered and, yes, there probably was no stopping the Buff ‘N Blue’s running game and veteran defense. But, not so fast, Moanalua was right in there on the smash-mouth side of the ballgame, hitting hard and being just as physical as the bigger, more imposing looking Punahou boys.
Eh, sounds like an excuse, right? Well, tell your school to try moving up to the Open. It AIN’T EASY. But that’s the gift you get for doing so well in the division where it’s likely you belong.
Thanks to two freshmen, Jeremy Garner and Josiah Kahue-Antone, Na Menehune made it very difficult for the Buff ‘N Blue (1-0) in the early going.
Those picks did not lead to points, and because of that inability to find the goal-line (three times within the 10-yard line) made a huge difference.
One player who epitomized Moanalua’s toughness was senior wide receiver Gabe Wells.
Wait, let’s say it in a more meaningful way — “5-foot-4” wide receiver Gabe Wells, who came the closest to putting points on the board for Na Menehune.
Open for a split-second at about the 5-yard line, he caught a high pass from senior quarterback Cade Rodriguez just as a Punahou defensive back was charging in from the side. On a bang-bang play, Wells caught the ball and got smacked hard by the defender. Without that tenacity, no way is that play made.
“When Cade threw it, I saw the safety out of the corner of my eye, so I just attacked the ball and brought it down,” Wells said.
When the word “toughness” was used in a question to him during a postgame interview, Wells said, “That’s all we need is toughness and hard work and more execution next time so we can actually score and win the game.”
When asked where he thought Moanalua was headed down the line this season, Wells added, “Where are we going? We’re going up, that’s where.”
Don’t forget that Nihipali has an ace up his sleeve. Last year’s D-I state offensive player of the year, wide receiver Jayce Bareng, will be returning in the near future from an injury.
“We’ll be a better team with him,” the coach said.
During Moanalua’s run to the OIA D-I title in 2021, the 5-7 Bareng caught 46 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns.
The two freshmen DBs were brought up from the JV because they are “ballers,” Mehehune coach Vince Nihipali said.
Garner described his interception: “I read the post. He (Punahou quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele) overthrew it and it came right down to me.”
Nihipali looks like he’s trying to get his young players as much experience as possible, ostensibly to build for the future. Another freshman — the 6-4 Tayden-Evan Kaawa — got in a ton of reps behind Rodriquez, finishing 7-for-13 for 54 yards.
The next test for Moanalua (0-1) is against Damien of ILH Division I next Friday.