LIHUE — The Warriors returned home Saturday with an unsettling sense of deja vu.
“Well, again we had a great opportunity but we didn’t finish it. I’m proud of the way the boys fought. We fought back,” said head coach Philip Rapozo at the Lihue Airport on Saturday. “We lost to a good team. They beat the No. 2 and No. 1 team in the state to win the state championship. We all knew they were a team to reckon with.”
Kapaa High School lost to Lahainaluna High School of the Maui Interscholastic League, 21-14, Friday in the championship game of the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships – Division II tournament at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Members of the Kapaa varsity football team took some time to offer their thoughts on the title match.
“It didn’t feel real. We all woke up this morning like, it still didn’t kick in that the game was finished and we lost,” said senior linebacker Mana Kupihea. “It was just heartbreaking knowing all our fans came to support us. But thank you to all our fans. We love them all for supporting us every single game. Thank you.
“It was one of the best seasons I’ve ever played. Thank you to all the coaches. Coach Mike (Tresler) for everything. He’s probably the best defensive coordinator in the state. And thank you to the team. It was a successful season, but too bad we couldn’t get the big one,” he continued.
Senior running back Leighton Moniz added: “The feeling, of course, it didn’t feel good. We lost two years in a row. Going back to the state championship was a blessing, but we wanted to come back with a win this year. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. Lahaina came to play, and we didn’t. I mean we did, but they executed better that us. They didn’t turn over the ball, and we did.”
Kapaa (8-2 overall, 5-1 Kauai Interscholastic Federation) faced an uphill climb in that title game against the Lunas after giving up a three-possession lead shortly after halftime.
Two of those Lunas touchdowns came in devastating fashion — the first off blocked Warriors punt returned 23 yards to the end zone, and the other came from an interception returned 55 yards.
“Actually at that point, I knew we were battle-tested. I just told they boys, ‘Hey, this game is not over. Last year we were here, we won the first half and lost the second. Let’s win the second half, turn this thing around and win the state championship,’” Rapozo said. “We almost did that. We fought back really hard. At the end, we ran out of time.”
The Warriors inched their way back and scored twice in the second half, the later coming from a 32-yard toss from junior quarterback Teili Fonua to senior receiver Gabe Keener, to get the momentum back and to energize the Warriors supporters in the crowd.
“We went out and played with our hearts. Just the first half didn’t go our way. That’s the main thing,” Moniz said. “We knew we could come back in the second half. The same exact thing happened the year before, and we ran out of time. That was the only thing.”
Lahainaluna then was able to run the game clock down to less than a minute left.
Kapaa had one last possession. A 6-yard completion from Fonua to Keener, but the play stayed inbounds and Kapaa had no timeouts to stop the clock.
The final seconds ran off as Kapaa scrambled to the line of scrimmage to try and spike the ball before time expired.
The loss was especially heartbreaking considering the team reached the championship game two years in a row and twice went out on the losing end.
“I think we woke up too late, to play and win. I don’t know. … It’s pretty much the same as last year. Mistakes killed us,” said junior offensive lineman R.J. Garcia. “Overall, it was a fun season. I have a lot of good memories with the seniors. They really helped. Just come back next year, and hope to make it there again.”
Rapozo recalled a trick play the team called in its first offensive play — a flea flicker from Fonua to senior receiver Kurt Napoleon that fell incomplete.
The coach said if that play was converted for a huge gain, it possibly could have been the launching point for the offense.
“Our first play, we had everybody open. Gabe Keener was open on the side. If we hit Gabe, touchdown and maybe the game changes,” Rapozo said. “It changed for them (Lahainaluna) when they blocked the punt and took it in. So, (it’s about) momentum. I think going down 21 and the way we fought back, it’s a great thing.”
Rapozo also said Lahainaluna pulled out all the stops in this game, which was much different that what they saw from the Lunas when they beat them, 21-0, in the preseason this year.
“They did a heck of a job with the trick plays. They did things they’ve never done before — double-reverse passes. They really came in with a good game plan,” he said. “I had a feeling they were going to throw the ball. Thought they figured our run defense was so solid, they would have to take some chances to beat us, and they did exactly that.”
Despite the loss, Rapozo said he’s seen the team go through up and downs, and can feel proud of what they’ve done this season.
“Great season. People don’t know what adversity we went through this year on and off the field,” he said. “To fight, to keep fighting to get to where we are, it’s not where we wanted to be. We wanted to be the state champions. It’s a big letdown for us, and this will sting for the rest of our lives. But we just got to keep fighting.”
Following Lahainaluna’s win in the D2 match, Mililani High School of the Oahu Interscholastic Association defeated Iolani School of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, 31-20, in the Division I championship game at Aloha Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Trojans win over the Raiders delivered Mililani its first Division I crown since 2014. Mililani totaled 429 net yards of offense, including 239 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns.
The inaugural Open Division state championship game, a rematch of last year’s Division I title game between OIA’s Kahuku and ILH’s Saint Louis, was played Saturday evening at Aloha Stadium.
The result of that game between the defending-champion Red Raiders of Kahuku and and the Crusaders, featuring senior quarterback and Alabama-commit Tua Tagovailoa, was not available by press time.