Close this search box.

‘Iolani Never Wavered In Its Long, Systematic March To The D-I State Football Championship

‘Iolani started strong. stayed strong and finished strong en route to its 2021 Division I state football championship.

The Raiders did this despite big gaps in the schedule caused by COVID-19.

It was ‘Iolani’s ninth state championship, but first at the D-I level. And the Dec. 23 38-0 title game victory over Lahainaluna at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium was the Raiders’ first state title since 2014 — a span of seven full years.

Those seven years may have been a long time to wait, but I bet it didn’t seem as long as the last two years for coach Wendell Look during this ongoing pandemic that has been harsh on athletes and coaches all around the world.

That’s the sense Look gave reporters in a postgame interview. You would think the man who has been the ‘Iolani head coach for 30 years would have seen it all before coming into the 2020 season.

But no. The man who doubles as the ILH football coordinator watched that whole ’20 season disappear due to the virus.

And then, while trying to patch together a season for his team this year and help cobble together a schedule for the league, it was a real struggle.

Look got emotional in that postgame talk, mentioning how tough it was for his players, his coaches and indeed the whole league to work through these difficult times.

In addition, he choked back tears while mentioning how his players at chapel on the morning of the championship game talked about how they were going to play with passion that night for all the players who were seniors during that lost 2020 season.

That “one team” mentality goes far.

Brody Bantolina and Asher Matsui were among ‘Iolani’s leaders in 2021.

In 2021, ‘Iolani stretched its 11 wins (and no losses) over five months. The Raiders won one game in August, four in September and two each in October, November and December.

How tough is it for any football team to have more than a two-week break in between games? Well, ‘Iolani went a full month without games twice — between Oct. 1 and Oct. 30 and again between Nov. 19 and Dec. 17.

But the Raiders never missed a beat, using a stifling defense drawn up by defensive coordinator Delbert Tengan and a hard-running offense led by Brody Bantolina (1,277 rushing yards, 202 receiving yards, 26 touchdowns) to win almost every game handily.

The closest games on the scoreboard were an early season 35-20 win over Kamehameha II and the 21-0 state semifinal victory over Aiea.

Tengan’s defense had many major contributors, and just some of those leading the way were Asher Matsui, Bronson Morioka, Stirling Sakashita, Ryan Tsuruda, Jacob Gaudi, Brayden Morioka, Ha’aheo Dela Cruz and Zion Junk.

Immediately preceding the two-year wait caused by the coronavirus was a heartbreaking 20-17 loss to Hilo in the 2019 state Division I championship game. The Vikings won that one on Keanu Keolanui’s 55-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and went through the uprights with no time remaining.

For ‘Iolani, it was “no cigar” in 2019, to “no mo’ nothing” in 2020, to the fruits of what all-in teamwork can do under coaches like Look, not to mention the examples and framework laid down way before that from Eddie Hamada and the legendary, iconic Father Kenneth Bray.

Click the link below for Bedrock’s ‘Iolani Football Team Page.

‘Iolani Raiders Football Team Page

MORE from Bedrock Sports Hawaii:

Change Of Course: Hawaii’s Dillon Gabriel Will Transfer To Oklahoma Instead


Bedrock Sports Hawaii Stories Emailed To Your Inbox:

Bedrock's YouTube Channel: