In the final minute of the game, Kauai High’s first-year varsity coach Tommy John Cox paced up and down the field and kept looking at his play card. But it turned out that the third time wasn’t a charm for the Kauai, as the Kaiser High School Cougars defeated the Red Raiders, 17-7, Saturday at Aloha Stadium in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II state football championship.
Kaiser, 13-1, found a way to slow down Kauai’s strong running game. The Red Raiders, who finished the season 10-1, were held to 135 yards of total offense (68 rushing yards, 67 receiving).
“We couldn’t really run the ball,” said senior running back Reggie McFadden, who was held to 31 yards on 11 carries. “I tried to pump them back up.”
Senior quarterback Kelson Andrade went 8-for-16 for 67 yards and an interception. Kauai’s Kyren Rapacon finished with 29 yards rushing on 12 carries and Tristan Bukoski finished with 31 yards receiving off of three carries.
The game started with both teams going back and forth with quick three-and-outs. Frustration continued well into the second until Kauai scored with 1:05 left of the half. Kauai’s scoring drive started on their own 17-yard line. The Red Raiders benefitted from two Kaiser offside calls, which pushed them closer to the goal line.
Kauai had a crucial decision to make on 4th-and-2 on the 4-yard line. Kauai went for it. Kanoa Iwasaki took the hand off from Andrade to run for the game’s first TD. Tristan Bukoski’s kick was good to put the Raiders up 7-0.
It took Kaiser nearly all of the third quarter to get on the board. On Kauai’s 8-yard line, Kaiser’s quarterback Kahoalii Karatti’s pass was deflected by Shaedon Tallano. Kaiser’s next play resulted in a TD pass from Karratti to Elima Haole.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Kauai’s punt was blocked and caught by Melvin Kahunanui, who ran it in for a 1-yard TD. Matt Sai’s kick was good, pushing the Cougars’ lead to 14-7. With just under two minutes to play, Sai kicked the field goal that padded the Cougar lead.
Kauai still had a shot, but with less than a minute left, Andrade’s pass was intercepted by Kaiser’s Kahunanui.
“They’re a tough, physical team,” said Iwasaki. “They just played a better ball game. I thought we had a pretty good chance.”
Cox, a 1997 Kauai High graduate, was proud of how his Raiders stuck with the Cougars.
“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, we gave them a fight,” Cox said. “My kids, they battled. Kaiser’s a great ball team. They’re well coached. We knew it would be a battle. We just couldn’t counter them.”
Even though it was Kauai’s ninth overall tournament appearance, in a lot of ways, it was a game full of firsts. It was the first trip to the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA state football championship for Cox; first trip to Aloha Stadium for this squad; first appearance ever by Kaiser and the first time Kaiser was held scoreless in the first half.
Kaiser’s Karratti finished the game 8-for-15 for 91 yards and an interception. Kaiser’s offense was not particularly explosive. Kauai’s defense held them to 80 yards rushing and 91 yards receiving.
“Our defense is the heart of our team,” Iwasaki said. “They held it down for us.”
No school from Kauai has ever won a state championship since the tournament’s inception in 1999. However, Kauai has made it to the big game three times. The first time came in 2006 when King Kekaulike of Maui defeated them, 33-20. That was the first championship game in HHSAA history that featured two neighbor island teams. The Raiders’ second attempt came against the powerhouse of Iolani School. Kauai lost that game, 24-17.
This was first title for second-year head coach Rich Miano. Miano is a former University of Hawaii football coach and NFL player.