LIHU‘E — It’s been over 20 years since the Kapa‘a Warriors walked through the halls of their Eastside high school as KIF champions. After Saturday night, the Warriors now find themselves 12 minutes away from their first title since 1990.
John Das threw three touchdown passes and Kainalu Akiona recovered a fumble for a momentumchanging touchdown to lead the Kapa‘a Warriors to a 27-17 win over the Kaua‘i Red Raiders at Vidinha Stadium.
The win brings the Warriors to the brink of a KIF championship. After the win, Kapa‘a’s record improved to 4-1 in KIF play. The Waimea Menehune sit at 4-2.
The Warriors and the Red Raiders meet again Tuesday afternoon to finish the fourth quarter of the September game that was suspended due to darkness. If the Warriors win that game, which will begin with a 7-6 Kapa‘a lead at the start of the fourth quarter, the Warriors will be champs.
Kapa‘a head coach Keli‘i Morgado said winning the full game against the Red Raiders was crucial for the Warriors title hopes.
“Had we lost, Kaua‘i would have had the momentum and we would have had doubts,” Morgado said.
Momentum was in favor of the Red Raiders midway through the first half. Down 7-0 after a Das touchdown pass to Aaron Baltazar, Kaua‘i brought the game to within 4 after a 27-yard field goal by Caitlin Rapozo.
On the ensuing drive, the Red Raiders recovered a Warrior fumble on the Kapa‘a 20 yard line to end the first quarter. Kaua‘i quarterback Trey Aguano wasted no time to start the second quarter, throwing a 20-yard touchdown pass to Mason Manera on the first play of the drive to give the Red Raiders a 10-7 lead.
Kaua‘i looked primed to tack onto its lead after forcing a punt and taking over on the Warrior 26, but that’s when Akiona left his mark on the game.
On the first play of the drive, a Kaua‘i running back was drilled by a Warrior defender, knocking the ball loose. Akiona scooped up the ball and returned it 21 yards for the touchdown.
After a converted extra point attempt, the Warriors led 14-10, a lead they would not relinquish.
“We had a nice hit that popped that ball out,” Morgado said, “and Akiona returned it at a time we desperately needed it.”
With the lead in tow, the Warriors gave the ball over to its proven work horse in Das.
Beginning the third quarter, Das orchestrated a 9-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that was capped by the QB hitting a wide-open Reese Hicks-Whetsel in the endzone for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
The Warriors controlled the clock in the third quarter making it nearly impossible for the Red Raiders to mount a successful comeback, Kaua‘i head coach Corey Aguano said.
“We had the ball for about one minute in the third quarter,” he said. “Their ball control for the whole second half put us in a bind and we had to throw.”
Trey Aguano finished with 129 yards passing, two touchdown tosses and zero interceptions.
His second TD came in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard pass to Triston Bukoski to bring the score to 27-17.
“We played a lot better offensively today,” Coach Aguano said. “But their offense played really well today. They moved the ball. The horses were running for them.”
The connections between Das and Baltazar were something new shown by the Kapa‘a offense. After hooking up in the first quarter, Das found Baltazar in the endzone after rolling out to the weakside in the third quarter. That score gave Kapa‘a a 27-10 lead.
“That play has always been there for us,” Morgado said. “It’s just a matter of what the defense gives us. They took away our strong side so we went that way and it worked.”
For the Warriors, Das led all rushers with 94 yards. Syndreck D’Sio chipped in 57.
The Red Raiders’ Dreyke Smith-Butac paved the way with 38 yards while Chase McFadden and Aguano added 25 and 29 a piece.
The win gives the Warriors a big cushion heading into Tuesday’s one quarter showdown. If the Warriors would have lost, Tuesday would have been a must win in order to set up a one-game playoff with the Menehune. Instead, the Warriors can avoid the Menehune with a win.
Morgado said he doesn’t know what to expect in the one-quarter game, which is why Saturday’s win was important.
“I’m uneasy about it,” Morgado said of Tuesday’s rematch. “It’s not the nature of the game to play one quarter. The game is a marathon. It’s not intended to be a sprint.”
This is especially pertinent because the Red Raiders will be fighting to avoid a winless season. Aguano said his team has improved each week and he knows his boys are chomping at the bit to end the season on a high note.
“They’ve had a rough season but with their character they fight to the end,” Aguano said. “It would be big for us.”
The most important 12 minutes of football this season begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Vidinha Stadium. Admission is free.
• Tyson Alger, sports writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or by emailing talger@ thegardenisland.com. Follow him on twitter.com/tysonalger.