‘Underdog’ Warriors ready for title game

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Warriors junior quarterback Kahanu Davis passes during Wednesday’s practice at Kapaa High School.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kapaa High School’s varsity football team go through warmups during Wednesday’s practice in Kapaa. In the forefront is Warriors senior offensive guard Eli Unutoa.

KAPAA — To everyone else, it’s the big game. But for the Warriors, it’s “business as usual.”

The reason being? It’s because the team has carried a “championship week” mentality since early September.

“Business as usual, man. It’s been championship week since our loss to Kauai High,” said Kapaa varsity football head coach Philip Rapozo during Wednesday’s practice. “Nothing has changed. They’re focused. They’re working hard. They know the task at hand, but we all know we’re ready.”

No. 2 seed Kapaa (7-2, 5-1 KIF, 1-0 HHSAA) will face off against No. 1 seed Lahainaluna, of the Maui Interscholastic League, in the championship game of the 2018 First Hawaiian Bank Football Championships–Division II state tournament.

The game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

“Lahainaluna is the standard of Division II football, man. It’s no secret. Everybody knows that,” Rapozo said. “Veteran coaching staff has been around for many years. Very good coaching staff. Disciplined team. Strong following. Like I said, they are the standard of Division II. We’ve been playing with them for a few years now, and we’ve proven that we can play with the best. It’s a great opportunity. We welcome the task, of course. If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best.”

After falling to the Red Raiders on Sept. 7, 13-3, the Warriors have since won eight straight games to reach the Division II title game.

Now, Kapaa has another chance at what no other team in the history of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation has yet to accomplish — win a state championship.

For Kapaa, it is the school’s third trip to the state championship game in the last four years.

The last time the Warriors were at Aloha Stadium was in 2016. Kapaa, then the No. 1 seed, lost to Lahainaluna, 21-14.

There are a handful of current Warriors that were on that team from 2016. Among them is senior offensive guard Eli Unutoa, who started as a sophomore that year.

Unutoa said rather than trying to hype it up, he’s just going about preparing for the final game as level-headed as possible.

“Compared to the last time we went to Aloha Stadium, we’re just treating like it’s a normal game, not really thinking too much about it,” Unutoa said. “We’ll just go up there and do our best.”

As for facing Lahainaluna again for the state title, Unutoa said, “They’re well-coached. They got some size. They’re physical. We just have stick to the game plan, stick to our technique and do what we’ve been practicing.”

Also from that 2016 team was senior defensive lineman Kupapa Flores.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Flores said. “We’re trying to focus more this week than in the other weeks, and I think we’re ready.”

What this Kapaa squad faces this weekend isn’t lost to the team or the coaches.

Going into Saturday, Lahainaluna (10-0, 8-0 MIL, 1-0 HHSAA) is undefeated and is on the cusp of a third consecutive Division II state title.

In the preseason this year, Kapaa lost to Lahainaluna at Vidinha Stadium in August, 30-10.

Lahainaluna’s offense this season often scored in the 30-to 50-point range. Defensively, the Lunas posted four shutouts and only twice gave up 10 points to their opponents.

Rapozo made no bones about it. Kapaa is the underdog going into Saturday, but he doesn’t mind it one bit.

“This is going to be the first championship (game) we go into as the underdogs, and I kind of like that,” he said. “The last two chances we had, we were the No. 1 team. It’s a lot of pressure. Not only pressure, but players and coaches start thinking, ‘We’re the team.’ That No. 1, that number is sometimes scary. I like going in as the underdog. This will be the first time, and rightfully so. We are playing the best team in Division II.”

So, Kapaa High School has another chance to grab hold of that elusive state championship.

If this is the team to finally end that drought and bring Kauai back a football state title, the team said:

Unutoa: “I’d feel extremely proud. Honestly, I’d probably be speechless. … To make history, that would be awesome.”

Flores: “I think that would feel good for the people of Kauai, and for us as a team.”

Rapozo: “Oh, man. It would be the greatest feeling. Nobody has done it yet on this island. We’ve close. Waimea started it. They got close. Kauai got close. We got close, but it’s never been done. I think it’s got to be one of the greatest feelings for anybody on this team and for our community and fans. If we bring home that trophy, we’ll make history, for sure.”

Info from ScoringLive.

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Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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