KAPAA — You can’t know where you’re headed until you know where you have been.
With one more round of games yet to be played in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation season, the Warriors are focused on the present, but at the same time have their eyes set on the what’s ahead.
“All the hard work that our coaches and our players make in this program, it shows that it’s paying off. So that’s exciting,” said Warriors head coach Philip Rapozo during Wednesday’s practice at Kapaa High School.
Kapaa High School’s varsity football team secured its place in the Division II state playoffs after its 28-0 victory over Waimea on Saturday to win a second-consecutive KIF championship, the seventh in the school’s history.
This year’s Warriors squad, however, had a different demeanor after Saturday’s win at Hanapepe Stadium. Whereas last year’s team expressed exuberance and ecstasy upon winning the league title, there was none of that this time around.
If there was any celebration, it was short-lived. During the team’s gathering following the game, the looks on their faces were stern.
“I guess you can say that we’re on a mission. After the Iolani loss last year in the semis, I remember the juniors saying that this year they want to get back and win the state title,” Rapozo said. “I guess we’re grounded. We just know what our goal is. I think anything less than a state title would put a damper on our season.”
Looking back, moving forward
It is that 29-24 loss on Oahu to eventual Division II state champion Iolani, of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, that drives the team now to accomplish what would be the first in KIF history — win a state title.
“For me, I was kind of pissed off the way we lost,” said senior linebacker Mosese Fifita. “Really, I went home quiet. I didn’t talk to nobody. Didn’t eat, barely slept because of the way we lost that game.”
Holding a one-point lead with minutes left, the Raiders scored a go-ahead touchdown pass. Without it’s starting quarterback because of injury, backup Kurt Napoleon, then a sophomore who played with the junior varsity team up until that point, was put in to run the Warriors’ offense.
“I was speechless. I would never think that would happen,” Napoleon said about taking the field that day. “I couldn’t even speak. I was just so nervous. I just figured I just had to do the best that I could, and if it’s good enough, then we’ll win. It just wasn’t good enough that day.”
Napoleon did fairly well considering his inexperience. In the final drive, the team inched its way up the field, but ran out of time.
“It hurt a lot for me. I felt like I let the team down because I wasn’t able to lead them to win that game,” Napoleon said. “How close we were to winning that game, it was heart-crushing.”
Now with Napoleon as the full-fledged starting quarterback, he has scored at least one touchdown in each game and Kapaa’s offense averages about 35 points a game, including the preseason.
“Any game that we’d lose would be a disappointment. It takes away our rank. It takes away our head start. It takes away getting better chances. Every game is a championship game to us. One loss means we’re digging ourselves in a deeper hole that we’re trying to get out of,” Napoleon said. “Everybody starting to realize what we can accomplish, what we can do and what all these games seriously mean to us in getting to that state title.”
The team’s defense and special teams, which regularly during the KIF season in some fashion has contributed points as well, has been staunch. The defense gave up 12 points in its two preseason games and has since not been scored on by a KIF opponent. They’ve won those games, 53-0, 68-0, 24-0, and 28-0.
“We’re a gap control defense. We pride ourselves in being disciplined, and that’s really important, I think, for success,” said defense and special teams coordinator Mike Tresler. “They would say that we’re disciplined. We fly around, we get to the football and we try to be great tacklers. Defense is all about running and tackling.”
When asked about the consecutive shutouts against KIF opponents, Tresler said, “That’s the goal of any defense.”
“I think we’ve been good in that aspect. Do we expect it? Well, yeah. That’s why you get on the field and that’s what you try to accomplish,” he said. “Am I surprised by it? Yes, but at the same time no. These are a great bunch of kids and I have great coaches helping me. They clearly know their roles, and if they get after it hard and they take care of their jobs, it is possible.”
Fifita said playing in Tresler’s defense is complex.
“He has a really technical defense because of the D-line and how we have to communicate with everybody,” Fifita said. “How it’s set up is kind of difficult, but he makes it easier by explaining how the job is done.”
Rapozo added the defense is a direct reflection of Tresler — tenacious.
To have won two KIF titles in his two years at the helm for Kapaa, Rapozo deflected to his coaching staff and didn’t accept credit, saying his role is simply to manage.
Meanwhile, Kapaa is currently ranked as the best team in Division II.
As for the upcoming state tournament, Rapozo said the team must take advantage of it now.
“You never know. You got to make the best of every opportunity. I don’t know if we’ll get this opportunity again. You can’t say next year we’ll win the state title,” he said. “That’s what I’m preaching to the boys — we need to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Tresler has previously been to three Division II championship games with Kauai High, twice as an assistant coach and once as a consultant. To not have won one of those three games, he said he wants to win one “extremely badly.”
“Just to be so close and to come up short three times, it’s hard to live with,” Tresler said. “Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.”
Having come so close last year, it’s still difficult to grasp how good the feeling bringing a state title to Kauai will be — something no KIF team has experienced. They have the talent to do so, players and coaches said. They had the talent last year, but the title turned out to be just out of reach.
“I think I would feel blessed because I could tell the world that we were the first team to bring it back to Kauai,” Fifita said.