LIHUE — This weekend’s playoff opener is the culmination of what head coach Derek Borrero said has been years in the making.
“It’s an opportunity we’ve been waiting for three years. It’s been a three-year process in preparing this team for this moment,” Borrero said during Thursday’s workout at the school. “These boys are hungry. They’ve sacrificed a lot. They’ve invested a lot in this moment.”
Kauai High School’s varsity football team will host Damien Memorial School, of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, for a semifinal matchup of the First Hawaiian Bank State Football Championships-Division I tournament.
Kickoff between Kauai’s Red Raiders and the Monarchs is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Vidinha Stadium.
Tournament No. 2. seed Kauai High (5-3, 4-2 KIF) clinched its state tournament berth after winning this year’s Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship on Oct. 7 after defeating Waimea High at Hanapepe Stadium.
“It means a lot,” said Red Raiders senior quarterback Christian Manera of hosting a playoff game on his home island. “We’ve waited four years just to win a KIF championship, and we finally did it. Now, we got blessed getting into the semifinals. So, it’s really special. One win, and we’re there.”
The Red Raiders, however, closed its regular season by losing to Kapaa High, 16-0, on Oct. 21.
Though the loss doesn’t sit well, the hope is that it will serve as a wake-up call for the team on the eve of the tournament.
“I feel like we’re going to be pretty set for this game,” said Red Raiders senior linebacker Noah Tangalin. “I feel like our team’s been getting stronger these past couple of weeks. Although we did lose to Kapaa, it’s a good thing that we lost then than now. I feel like our team is going to be very prepared, and we’ve been working our butts off.”
Damien (9-3) won its third-straight ILH Division II championship last weekend. The Monarchs beat Saint Francis School, 13-12, to earn its berth at states.
The two schools played four times this year and split the season series, 2-2.
“Eddie Klaneski is their head coach. He’s a very aggressive guy,” Borrero said. “That team is going to be well-prepared. They play in a very good league. Every weekend, it’s a very challenging and competitive game for them. So moving into states and having the game we’re going to have on Saturday, it’s nothing different for them. They play that level of football every weekend. So for us, we need to make sure our minds are right and make sure we’ve taken care of all areas of preparation.”
During the preseason, Kauai High played Saint Francis in Honolulu and lost, 42-0. Borrero said, though, what the team is now is much different from what it was to start the season.
“There’s a lot of things that happened within our season that has brought these young men closer to each other,” he said. “That’s why I think we were able to get over the hill and win the championship here on Kauai. Like I said earlier, at any moment in time, any one of these three teams — Kapaa, Kauai and Waimea — could have beat each other. That’s how good it was here. The fact that the KIF was very competitive, I think we’re ready for this game.”
This year will be the first for the KIF to play in Division I. The tournament was changed to a three-tier format — Division I-Open, Division I and Division II — in July.
However, the goal come Saturday is still the same: win and get to Aloha Stadium. Should Kauai High advance, it will be the first time the school has reached the final since the 2013 season — then in Division II, and then under then-head coach Tommy John Cox.
The KIF has yet to win a football state championship.
“This is something that we were talking about since spring. No matter what the tier was going to be, wherever they were going to put us, we want to end our season at Aloha Stadium,” Borrero said. “We’re one game away. With that being said, these boys are hungry.”