KAPAA — For the second year in a row, the Warriors have a shot at what no other team in the history of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation has done — win a state football championship.
It was bitterly disappointing when the team fell short last year. It’s a feeling those boys do not want to experience again.
“I think last year as a team, we were happy just to get there even though we said that (we wanted) to win the whole thing,” head coach Philip Rapozo said during Tuesday’s practice at the Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex in Kapaa.
“Right now, everybody’s not excited just because we are there,” he continued. “We’re thankful for the opportunity, but we’re not banking on getting there. I think that’s where the focus comes in. We know we got something big to do.”
Kapaa High School’s varsity football team punched its ticket to the championship game of the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships – Division II tournament with its 21-14 win over Damien Memorial of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu in the semifinals Saturday at Vidinha Stadium.
The championship game is set for 4:30 p.m. Friday at Aloha Stadium.
The Warriors (8-1 overall, 5-1 KIF) scored all three touchdowns in the first half — the first two off short runs near the goal line, and the other off a 79-yard interception return.
The offense then stalled in the second half as the Monarchs threatened a come-from-behind win. The defense bent but didn’t break, and the continued running attack killed off the clock to ensure the win.
“Just beyond blessed right now. That’s pretty much it. Just taking it day-by-day,” said senior defensive lineman Ikona Fernandez.
Junior quarterback Teili Fonua made just his second start of the season Saturday. It was also his first in the postseason.
“I think I did really good handling the offense,” Fonua said. “We came out really strong in the first half (with) all that excitement. I just told my guys, ‘Just have fun, just punch these guys in the mouth early, and we got these guys.’”
While statistically Fonua didn’t show much — just three attempts and only one completion for six yards — Rapozo said he ran the offense well and will “most likely” start in the championship game as well.
“He was composed. He protected the ball pretty well and managed the game for us,” the coach said.
Now in the way of the Warriors are the Lunas of Lahainaluna High School, the champions of the Maui Interscholastic League – Division II.
The Lunas knocked off No. 2 seed Konawaena of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, 28-14, Saturday in the semifinals.
Lahainaluna neared 300 yards rushing and scored all four of its touchdowns on the ground to earn its bid to the title game. Lunas freshman Joshua Tihada and senior Donovan Defang lead the rushing attack.
Rapozo expects both teams to rely on the run early and often in the upcoming matchup, but said his team still has to be prepared for the unexpected.
“I think that’s probably what both teams are going to try – establish the run early. I think that’s the smart thing for both teams,” he said. “We’re both not great passing teams, but we are able to pass the ball. Lahaina, they run the ball so well. … But I expect them to throw the ball also. We got to be ready for everything.”
Recent history between the two teams suggests Kapaa is favored. The Warriors defeated the Lunas, 21-0, in the preseason this year on Maui. Kapaa also beat Lahainaluna twice last year — winning, 24-0, in the Division II semifinals, and getting a 14-10 edge in the preseason.
Lahainaluna last defeated Kapaa in an 18-16 win in a preseason game in 2014.
“I don’t these guys can take it for granted. Every team changes over the year,” said Warriors defensive lineman Kapena Texeira about playing the Lunas again. “Hopefully, this team won’t take it for granted and take it as a serious game.”
While Rapozo is confident going into the title game, he insists it’s not because of that recent history. And even with that, the team still cannot afford to take the Lunas lightly.
“I like our chances against any Division II team. Anytime we go into a game, we’re thinking we’re going to win. But we can’t get overconfident against Lahaina,” Rapozo said. “That’s a whole different team we’re going to face than what we faced in the beginning. The last wins before that, that’s done. We’re not even the same team. They’re not the same team (from) last year. So, we’re just going off the one win we had this year.
“Like I’m telling the boys, ‘It’s hard to beat a really good team twice.’ We got to make sure we work hard this week – prep, do our homework, focus and give ourselves a chance to win this championship.”
With all that said, if this is the team that finally delivers Kauai its first football championship, the Warriors said:
Rapozo: “I don’t think you can feel the feeling unless you can experience something like that. I’m pretty sure it’s going to feel really good. If we lose, it feels really bad. Last year’s feeling, I don’t ever want to feel that again. I think the boys don’t want to feel that feeling we had last year. So hopefully, we can feel really good this time around.”
Texeira: “I don’t know. I haven’t been there, but I’m thinking it would be pretty good. It sucked the last time that we lost. We got a good opportunity to go again. Hopefully, we can win.”
Fonua: “Oh, my god. If we win, it would be a really big deal because it would be the first for the whole island. I don’t think anybody can imagine how we did it two times in a row going back there again. It would be the best feeling if we win it, and hopefully we do.”
Fernandez: “That would just be a complete blessing, especially for this island, this community of Kapaa and this school. … That would be so amazing. I can’t describe it right now because it means that much to us. That’s the main goal each year.”