Lihu’e downs San Jose for Pop Warner crown

Defense wins championships, and for the Lihu’e Patriots Pee Wees, defense brought home the first-ever national Pop Warner title for a Hawai’i team.

The Patriots ousted the Hollister Vikings from San Jose, Calif., 14-0, yesterday in Orlando, Fla., and earned the Tomlin Championship trophy in the Division II Pee Wee age bracket (9-11).

The 15-hour trip to Orlando was well worth it for the Lihu’e players, cheerleaders, coaches and parents, with team members making it to the title game with a 14-6 win over the East Tampa Bandits earlier this week.

“This team was undefeated, and just 15 miles away from their hometown. They had TV coverage and everything, and they thought they were going to pull it out,” said Ralph Suniga, Patriots’ assistant coach.

“They were tough, but we managed to pull it out,” Suniga said.

The Patriots were down 6-0 going into the locker room, but they marched back with a 57-yard touchdown run by quarter-back Taren Tani.

Then Lihu’e’s defense stiffened, and the second Patriot score closed the deal. With just five minutes to go in the game, Travis Koga threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to John Das. Calen Kimura nailed the two-point kick.

“They were excited. We had first-game jitters,” said Head Coach Mario Longboy. “We made a lot of mistakes, with five fumbles and four penalties in the first half, but they overcame it and they did it,” Longboy said.

Against Hollister, it was a defensive battle the whole way. Lihu’e’s defense held the Vikings out of the end zone with 40 seconds to go in the first half, when the California team had first and goal at the goal line.

“I think that was the turning point. We came out in the second half and moved the ball the way we wanted to,” Longboy said.

Tani’s two scores were enough for the national title win over the Vikings.

“I just want to acknowledge the community for helping us. It was a big time struggle with the fund-raisers and such, but everyone involved deserves some credit, especially the board members and the parents,” Longboy said.

The Patriots won the Kaua’i championship, and defeated ‘Aiea in the regional title contest at Hanapepe Stadium.

The team will be arriving home at Lihu’e Airport at 6:45 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday, Dec. 11, on Hawaiian Airlines.

Please see more coverage on today’s sports pages.


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