Another heartbreaking loss for Kapolei

What can anyone say to a team like this?

It’s five games into the OIA Blue Division season and the talented, big and fast Kapolei Hurricanes are 1-4. It’s not a total shock, not with a first-year starter at quarterback, but Hurricane fans have gotten plenty of visuals. The eye test says the final results should be better. Kapolei is pretty good in so many areas, and still, defeat awaits the ‘Canes at the finish line.

Saturday night was another example. Kapolei’s defense had thwarted one of the most prolific offenses in the state. Three interceptions — by Malik Smith, Tristan Centeio and Bryson Hughes — stunned the visiting Sabers. So did three sacks, by Dillon Pakele, Hughes and Noah Mahelona. Campbell’s sophomore slinger, former Kapolei JV player Ezra Savea, was having the worst game of his very young career.

For three-and-a-half quarters, the game was Kapolei’s to win. But Kapolei’s 14-13 loss had as much to do with missed opportunities as murky situations.

1. The Hurricanes had the ball at the 1-yard-line with 26 seconds left in the first half. Leading 6-0, another score in a defensive duel would be a huge plus. Alton Julius attempted a sneak over the goal line, and though watchers on the field saw Julius edge over to score, none of the officials saw it that way. Unlike NFL officials who sprint into a pile to locate the ball’s position, high school officials usually stay away. Far away.

With the ball still at the 1 — inches from the goal line — the Hurricanes lined up as the clock ticked below 10 seconds. With no time outs left, there was only time for one more snap. Julius was denied again by Campbell’s goal-line defense. It turned out to be a huge stop.

2. Clinging to a 13-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the ‘Canes got the ball back after Campbell’s turnover on downs at the Kapolei 18-yard line. Kapolei had executed a marvelous game plan, eating away at the clock with its ground attack, keeping Savea and his fleet of receivers on the sideline.

But on the next play, Julius launched a long pass that was intercepted by Dylan Villanueva. Campbell got the ball at its 46-yard line, so it amounted to, basically, a punt. But it also cost Kapolei the chance to melt off 4, 5, maybe 6 minutes. The Sabers didn’t score on their possession.

3. In those final 7 minutes, Kapolei pinned Campbell at its 5- and 15-yard lines to start drives. Campbell went three and out the first time, staying conservative with two runs for 1 yard and an incomplete pass.

But the Sabers defense got Kapolei to go three and out, with a delay of game penalty messing up a third and 4 for the ‘Canes. Julius was marvelous in the punting game — five in all for a 45-yard average. His final punt went out of bounds at the Campbell 15, far, far away from dangerous return man Solomon Matautia.

It was second and 11 when Savea stood in the pocket and launched a rocket downfield. Jayce Bantolina went up high to pull the spiral in as two Kapolei defensive backs collided.

“The same thing happened to us last year against Farrington,” Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez said.

Bantolina went the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown, and after a 35-yard PAT by Kona Reiny-Aloy, Campbell had miraculously taken a 14-13 lead with 57 seconds to play.

4. Hernandez’s team had seen close defeat before. Botched extra points were key in a 28-26 loss to Farrington a few weeks ago. But the ‘Canes drove swiftly downfield behind Julius. His third completion of the drive, which began the Kapolei 20, went to Kekua Marumoto at the Campbell 15.

But a strange thing happened. Two flags fell after Matautia came roaring in headfirst for a hit on Marumoto. After conferring, officials waved the flags off. Hernandez called his last time out and talked with the head referee to no avail.

Still, there was 17 seconds left and the ‘Canes had one more time out. Then came the inexperience. Julius bought extra time as he went left, tried to go back to the middle of the end zone. Ty-Noah Williams, who had caught a TD pass earlier, was running a post route. But that’s when Campbell’s super sub, cornerback Austin Faga, zoomed in for an interception with 8 seconds to play.

Another quality performance by the Hurricanes, but at 1-4, it’s understandable if they aren’t feeling great. A string of B-plus, A-minus games offer little consolation. That’s what playing four Top 10 teams — and losing to each of them — can do.

“I must be the most snake-bitten coach in the OIA,” Hernandez said, exhausted and perplexed.

Close losses have a way of shaking out over the course of a season, sometimes balanced out by close wins. With two games left on the OIA Blue schedule — a homecoming matchup with Kailua and a road game at Aiea — the ‘Canes are in position to claim one of the six playoff berths in the seven-team division.

One win in five games could turn into four wins in the next five. It’s a long haul ahead, but for the snake-bitten Hurricanes, the only question left is, why not? Julius passed for 204 yards and was almost brilliant in the second half — 7-for-10, 104 yards until the fateful interception — against one of the state’s top defensive units.

If the regular season ended now, Kapolei would play Waianae or Kaiser in the first round. The winners would reach the quarterfinals, and if the ‘Canes keep improving, another win would push them into the semifinals.

With three OIA teams qualifying for the D-I state tournament, getting to the semifinal round is huge. Even with a loss, teams can still reach states by winning the third-place game. It’s not a high probability for any 1-4 team, but then again, there probably isn’t a team in the league that wants to play Kapolei in the postseason.

Defense? Stalwart.

Offense? Balanced and improving.

Special teams? Good for the most part, and if the ‘Canes start making PATs consistently, the landscape of the OIA playoffs could be altered radically. Why not?


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