Kauai High won’t be able to play in the comfort of Vidinha Stadium this week in the Division II semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Instead, the Red Raiders will fly from the Garden Island to Oahu for a game against six-time defending D-II state champion ‘Iolani at Eddie Hamada Field on Saturday.
The Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion Red Raiders (9-0) are coming off a 13-7 victory at home on their well-groomed field against Pearl City. The visiting Chargers wore white jerseys when they entered the stadium and they were still white when they left. Despite a near-constant drizzle and a few heavy downpours, the lush grass field held up and it didn’t appear any clods of mud were kicked up throughout.
The Red Raiders are likely to find that the field conditions at ‘Iolani are also prime, but the fans there won’t be quite as hospitable as the supporters they have at home in Lihue.
Kauai has never won a state title since the tournament’s inception in 1999, and they’re 0-3 in state-tournmament games against Interscholastic League of Honolulu D-II champion ‘Iolani (7-4).
In 2007, ‘Iolani prevailed over Kauai 35-21 in the semifinals. In 2009, both teams reached the final, with ‘Iolani winning by a touchdown, 24-17. Then, in the 2010 semifinals, it was ‘Iolani again, this time by a 14-0 score.
The Red Raiders know the history and are working to turn the tides.
Kauai coach Tommy Cox said ‘Iolani has always been “a bump in the road” to his team.
The Red Raiders have a bunch of playmakers on defense. Linebacker James Bukoski had 10 tackles, including six solo stops, two interceptions and a pass breakup to lead the defensive shutdown against the Chargers. Defensive end Kelii Efhan contributed with eight tackles, including two for loss.
Offensively, the weapons kept coming for Kauai, too, against Pearl City — from the slippery Reggie McFadden to the hard-charging Kyren Rapacon to speedy outside threats Pono Bukoski and Kanoa Iwasaki.
But if ‘Iolani keys too much on the running game, it could present the problem of Kalawaia Judd, who is a 6-foot-1, 160-pound junior wide receiver and a big target for quarterback Kelson Andrade. Judd caught four passes for 47 yards against Pearl City.
One possible Red Raiders weakness is run defense. The Chargers showed they could bust it up the middle in the second half against Kauai. James Bukoski, after the game, said he was cramping up during his second interception that helped save the game. He noticed in the second half that Pearl City’s offensive line put on a big push and was handling Kauai’s defensive line.
The Chargers’ running — led by Blake Cooper‘s 85 yards on 11 carries — came as a surprise to the Red Raiders, who didn’t see much of it in the first half. Their inability to find a solution right off the bat nearly cost Kauai the game.
“The way we were playing (during that stretch), they could have run on us all day,” James Bukoski said. “But finally, our defense picked it back up again and the interceptions (the team had four on the day, including three in the second half) were huge.”
The Chargers (7-5), who had a horrible start to their season with two 30-point-plus losses to Kapolei and Kalani, did not go home with their heads down.
“I’m happy with what we did,” Cooper said. “We ended it (the season) here in the state tournament.”
Chargers coach Robin Kami was upbeat about the team’s accomplishments in his first season as coach.
“Nobody expected us to be here and we were here (in the tournament),” he said. “Kauai did a good job of stopping us in the first half. The kids tried their best and that’s all you can ask for. They gave it their all.”
Trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Chargers made a valiant comeback attempt, scoring early in the fourth quarter after a third-quarter drive was thwarted with an interception in the end zone by Kauai’s Kaiea Iwasaki.
Then came some frantic plays that put a scare into the hearts of the Red Raiders faithful. The Chargers got as far as the Kauai 32 on a few hook and laterals, but a false start penalty negated one of the big gains and put the ball back into Pearl City territory. Twice in the final 1:32, Pearl City receivers were in the clear for long gains down the sideline (worthy of Chris Berman-like “He could go all the way” shouts to pop into the spectators’ heads) only to be stopped by alert open-field tacklers. Two or three more misses and it could have been pay dirt and a possible winning extra-point attempt for the visitors.
Receiver Timothy Rivera had a big game offensively for Pearl City, with five catches for 68 yards.
Defensively, the Chargers played nearly as good and as hard-hitting as the Red Raiders. Zebadiah Selu and Cody Crail had eight tackles each.
Notes: Kauai High is 6-9 all-time in state-tournament games, including 6-8 in Division II. The three KIF teams (Kauai, Waimea and Kapaa) are a combined 10-15 in state contests, and that breaks down to 3-5 in D-I and 7-10 in D-II. … In home state-tournament games, the KIF is 10-4 (Kauai High 6-3, Waimea 3-1 and Kapaa 1-0). … The Red Raiders have won 10 of the last 11 KIF championships since 2003. A streak of eight in a row was broken by Kapaa in 2011. That title for the Warriors was their first since 1989. … Waimea has now gone 11 seasons without a KIF crown. The Menehunes’ last one was in 2002, which was their 11th in a row in a streak that started in 1992. … Kauai High’s previous KIF title before 2003 came in 1991, when they were led by quarterback Sterling Carvalho (now a Kahuku assistant coach) and his twin brother Stewart Carvalho, a receiver. Taylor Shigemoto, who went on to spend some time with the UH football team, was a prolific, speedy and shifty running back on that team.