KAPAA — The preseason is now behind us, and the fight for the next league title begins tonight.
Defending champion Kapaa High School will host Kauai High at the Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex to kick of the 2016 Kauai Interscholastic Federation football regular season.
The junior varsity game will begin at 5 p.m. and the varsity will follow.
“We feel good. Everyone’s pretty much healthy. Everyone is excited about playing the first KIF game,” Kapaa head coach Philip Rapozo said during Thursday’s practice at Kapaa High School. “It’s going to be fun.”
Kapaa was unbeaten in the last two KIF season en route to winning consecutive league championships and appear to have picked up where they left off.
The Warriors (2-0) have won both of their preseason contests — getting a 16-6 win over Division I school Maui on Aug. 6 at Vidinha Stadium, and then winning, 21-0, at Lahainaluna on Aug. 13.
“I think we can be just as good as we were last year,” Rapozo said. “The first week against Maui, I think everybody goes through the same thing — you’ve been in pads for 10 days and starting fresh. At least the second game, you got a game under your belt and more time in pads. It’s just (about) building off that preseason and getting better everyday.”
Warriors senior quarterback Kurt Napoleon said the team has worked though its kinks during the preseason and feels ready for the KIF opener.
“The preseason, I think we just got all the bugs out, and just fixed all the little things that we needed to,” Napoleon said. “I think we’re highly prepared for this next game. It’s one of the biggest games because it’s KIF, it’s the start of the season and you want to do good. You want to start strong and finish strong. I’m just hoping we got a great game.”
Rapozo is confident going into the season because he feels his squad is capable in all phases — offense, defense and special team.
While the team may be on the cusp of three-peating, however, Rapozo said it would be foolish to take this season for granted.
“I think we’re just as talented as we were the last two years. But I think Kauai High and Waimea is a lot better this year, too. That’s going to be the challenge,” he said.
Rapozo added: “We can’t overlook these two teams. We got the target on our back. It’s been a while since Kapaa has had the target on our backs. They want to beat us. And I would want to beat them, too, if I was in their position. It’s football, and we respect them a lot.”
Kauai High will attempt to snap Kapaa’s KIF winning streak on Friday.
The Red Raiders (0-2) were on the short end of both their preseason games — losing to Saint Francis School, 31-9, at Vidinha Stadium on Aug. 13, and then getting edged out by Kamehameha Schools-Hawaii on the Big Island, 14-13, on Saturday.
“We were able to sustain a few drives and throw the ball around a little bit. The main thing is that it was nice to be in the fight,” said Kauai head coach Derek Borerro about Saturday’s game during Wednesday’s practice at Kauai High School.
“We had the lead for most of the game. To feel that, to have the boys feel that and realize there was opportunity there, was nice. Unfortunately, there were mistakes at the end,” Borerro continued. “Four minutes left in the game, and a few things started to fall apart. It ended up being a result of a loss, but it was nice to be in the fight.”
Despite the losing results though, Borrero did find a silver lining against KS-Hawaii that he feels bodes well for his team going into the KIF opener.
“Their spirit was tested. And that was a good thing because it allowed us, as coaches, to see what kind of internal fortitude we have – how we’re built on the inside,” he said. “We know how we’re built on the outside, but the outer shell can be deceiving at times. So, it gave us an opportunity to take a look at the core of what we’re made of. And we saw some good things.”
Red Raiders junior running back Jaykob Nakaahiki-Young said he and the team have been especially pumped up during practices this week, and that the team will be looking to surprise those who view the Red Raiders as the long shot.
“We’re the underdog right now. Everyone is saying Kauai High lost their first two preseason (games) and they’re eventually bound to lose their next two games and have a bad season,” Nakaahiki-Young said Wednesday. “But we’re here to make a statement and prove people wrong — that we’re out here to play, and we’re out here to hang with the big boys.”
Borerro said the objective for Friday’s game is to keep things simple and to play with urgency. And if the Red Raiders do that, the team will have a puncher’s chance against the defending champs.
”If we do our job, if everybody understands their role and takes care of business, we have a good shot,” Borrero said. “It’s a very tough team. Kapaa is a well-oiled machine right now. But nothing is impossible. That’s why they play the games.”