Kapaa High School (8-1) will take on Lahainaluna (10-1) in the 2019 First Hawaiian Division II Football Championship today at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu for the second-consecutive season.
Last year, Kapaa fell to the Lunas 34-32.
“I think throughout the last six seasons, we’ve played them six times,”
Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo said. “They are up 4-2 on us.”
It will be a battle this time, too, he said, adding he has noticed the steady progression of Lunas in his film study throughout the season.
“They aren’t the same team now,” Rapozo said. “They are a lot better than they were when we played them in August.”
Kapaa fell to Lahainaluna 21-18 in a preseason contest on Aug. 17.
The Lunas, the No. 1 seeded team in this tournament, steamrolled Roosevelt 31-0 in the semifinals.
Kapaa had to hold off Kaimuki last weekend, 35-28. Warriors’ linebacker Jeffrey Brown intercepted Jayden Maiava’s pass on fourth-and-seven late in the game to ice the win.
Rapozo said playing in close contests with high stakes allowed his team to grow.
“We know we are battle-tested,” Rapozo said. “We feel like we’ve seen a lot of passing in the Kaimuki game, and now we have more experience defending the pass. We have to do a lot better than we did against Kaimuki, but this helps us make adjustments.
Kapaa knows one of the keys to defeating the Lunas is stopping senior Joshua Tihada.
Tihada, who has been a member of all four Lunas teams that have qualified for the state championship, has run for 1,276 yards on 194 carries and scored 20 rushing touchdowns this season.
“He is their workhorse,” Rapozo said. “He is a special player on a team with a bunch of good players.”
Kapaa and Lahainaluna have similar offensive philosophies, according to Rapozo. Neither is dependent on the run or pass.
The Warriors don’t throw the ball often, but when they do, they are efficient.
Davis only threw the ball six times in the semifinal victory over Kaimuki, and he connected on four of them, including a touchdown pass to Dreyden Iwamoto.
“Both teams will take what we can get in the passing game,” Rapozo said. “We are both very disciplined.”
Warriors’ quarterback Kahanu Davis is a dual-threat. In the game against Kaimuki, Davis ran the ball 21 times for 174 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“Davis does everything in his power to help our team win,” Rapozo said. “That is what I see in practice, and in games, he isn’t stressed. He isn’t afraid to grab the bull by the horns and lead the team.”
Throughout the season, the Warriors’ defense shut down opponents, allowing a total of 73 points all season. This includes shutouts against Waimea, two against Kauai High, and a 47-0 win against Division II team Kamehameha.
“The big thing for us, we have a mentality of ‘It’s not me, it’s we,’” Rapozo emphasized. “It takes all of us to do this, and it’s not about one guy or two, we have to play good as a team, and playing well as a unit on defense is an example of that.”
The Lunas don’t change much on defense, and the three-time defending state champion doesn’t have to, Rapozo said.
The Lunas’ defensive coordinator Robert “Bobby” Watson has coached the team for several decades and runs the same defensive structure.
“They run a three-man front, are very athletic, and get to the ball well,” Rapozo said. “They are well-coached and Watson has been there for 30-something years.”
Rapozo is in his fourth state championship but is still looking for his team’s first title.
“The first couple of times, I think we were just happy to get there,” Rapozo said.
Last year’s loss was disappointing as Kapaa let a lead slip awa.
“Our team learned no lead is safe, and we have to keep fighting until the end, and this helped our coaches become more seasoned, and experienced in big games now,” he said.
Everyone in the playoffs is a champion, Rapozo said.
“You are playing the best in every league, and there is a tiny room for error,” he said. “ I think you can’t beat yourself, and if you put your best game forward than you can play with anyone.”