KAPAA — It’s been about four weeks since the Warriors have set foot on the gridiron.
Now with their next opponent set, the Kauai Interscholastic Federation champs are ready for yet another run in hopes of bringing Kauai its first state football championship.
“Everybody is excited. You can see the difference with practices just knowing who your opponent is,” Kapaa varsity head coach Philip Rapozo said during Thursday’s practice. “We’re back to the way we started the year — excited and ready to play football.”
Kapaa High School’s varsity football team (7-1, 5-1 KIF) is set to host Damien Memorial in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships – Division II tournament. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Vidinha Stadium.
“This past three or four weeks, we’ve just been going back to fundamentals and working on the little things. Fixing that up,” said Warriors senior offensive lineman Morris Unutoa Jr. “This week, we started to taper down a little bit, getting our plays down and just coming together as a team. All of my teammates, we’re like brothers. We’re all excited to play on Saturday.”
Rapozo added: “Damien is a well-disciplined and well-coached team. They get after it on both side of the ball. They’re a complete team. They’re a big test for us this week.”
Damien (7-2, 3-1 ILH D2), the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division II champion, earned its shot with the Warriors following its 40-0 romp over Waialua last week in the tournament quarterfinals.
Considering Waialua is also a league champion itself, claiming the Oahu Interscholastic Association D2 title, Rapozo said he didn’t expect Damien to win by that wide a margin.
But he did believe his team would see the Monarchs come Saturday.
“I didn’t think it was a 40-point rout. I suspected Damien was a little bit of a favorite, but I didn’t think it would be that outcome — that big of a margin,” Rapozo said, who was present at that quarterfinals game at Campbell High School in Honolulu.
“Just from the pregame, I noticed that Damien, they got some swagger,” the coach added. “They’re not cocky, but they’re a confident team. You can see that in their coaches. They’re an exciting team.”
In that 40-point victory, the Monarchs scored four rushing touchdowns and totaled more than 200 yards rushing, according to ScoringLive.
“I didn’t expect that, but it is what it is. They’re a good team,” said Warriors senior defensive lineman Ikona Fernandez. “I think scheme-wise they’re pretty good. But what we can do well, I think we can go out there and play tough on the line and get some good plays.”
Rapozo added about facing the Monarchs offense: “Oh, you got to play really disciplined football on defense. You got to fly around. Assignment is really important because it’s a lot of movement. I think we’ll be ready for that, and I’m sure they’ll be ready for us. I expect a really good game.”
On the other side of the ball, Damien sacked the Bulldogs quarterback three times en route to recording a defensive shutout.
“From film and what our coaches are telling us, you can tell they’re a well-coached team and they get after it every play,” Unutoa said. “We just got to come out from the start, be really physical and just let them know who they’re facing.”
Rapozo said of attacking their defense: “The main thing is we got to control the game, and we got to protect the ball. We cannot turn over the ball. I think Waialua had four interception and a few fumbles. So, that didn’t help Waialua. If you’re going to do that against a good defense like that, it’s going to be hard to beat them.”
Though Damien has proved itself to be a formidable opponent, Rapozo is banking on that playoff experience and going through some tough times during the regular season will get his team over the edge and earn another bid to the Division II championship game.
“That’s what we’re feeling good about — that we got some experience, making it to the state championship last year. I think that’s going to be good for us,” he said.
“I think this year is a lot different from last year,” Rapozo added. “Last year, we were so excited. This year, it’s just business as usual. It really is. We’re not even thinking about where we’re at. We know where we’re at. It’s all about working hard and doing our jobs.”
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Konawaena of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation will host Lahainaluna of the Maui Interscholastic League in the other D2 semifinal. That matchup is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.