The youth movement at Kapaa — and a 20-12 semifinal win over Kaimuki — wouldn’t happen without supreme senior leadership.
Trust, with a capital ‘T’, is a must in Warrior country. Sophomore Heath Rosa‘s interception set up a key TD for Kapaa, opening the lead to eight points.
Then, in the final 1:11, Kapaa showed massive amounts of trust in their underclassmen as Kaimuki marched downfield. After a penalty on the home team for tackling a defenseless receiver — Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo was expecting, at worst, an illegal block during the interception runback by Stetson Telles-Kelekoma.
Kaimuki now had the ball at the 21-yard line with 27 seconds to play. Kaimuki quarterback Jonah Fa‘asoa took two shots near the left pylon, where senior Elijah Lemalu was covered by sophomore Kaiola Lingaton, single coverage all the way, for two incomplete passes.
Lingaton had already stopped a key Kaimuki drive inside the 5 during the first half with a stonewall tackle near the pylon, and later partially blocked a punt.
On third down from the 21, Fa’asoa tested the right side again, and Telles-Kelekoma speared the spiral with two hands for the biggest play of the game.
“I give Kaimuki props for battling. They’re the toughest team I’ve challenged so far,” said Telles-Kelekoma, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior who finished with 6.5 tackles. “It’s a big stage.”
At the tail end of the play as Telles-Kelekoma weaved to the opposite side of the field, running time off the clock, Kaimuki’s stellar lineman, Sama Paama, took a hit in the knee from a teammate and was down for several minutes. He was taken to a local hospital.
Kapaa took over with 6.7 seconds remaining and took a knee, advancing to the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II Football State Championships. The Warriors reached the state final in 2015, losing to Radford 30-16, and again in ’16, falling to Lahainaluna 21-14.
Coming into Saturday’s showdown, Rapozo drew similarities between Kaimuki to that ’15 Radford squad. The one clear difference was that Radford had numbers, while Kaimuki suited up 24. The Warriors kept their defensive unit rotating on a warm, sunny afternoon at Vidinha Stadium. Those fresh legs made a difference in the final minute.
Senior Raffy Pereno and Rosa led the charge with seven tackles each.
“These guys are coached up,” Rapozo said. “We have a great defensive coaching staff. These guys work so hard, our whole coaching staff is really great. They put the time into the kids. The kids love the coaches. The coaches love the kids and it just works.”
There might not be another team in the state tournament at any level that started five sophomores.
“They won the jobs all year,” Rapozo said. “We’ve got some depth on defense. They all work hard and came to play. We’ve got packages. I’m proud of these kids. This whole offensive line, all you hear is ‘Come on, O-line! Come on, O-line!’ But these kids, they just keep working. And we can thank our defense. We’ve got a lot of good defensive linemen and ‘backers that work hard every day. We’ve got six, seven strong at O-line, maybe got 14 at D-line,, and they just work ‘em every day. We go up against some of the best at that position, our O-line going up against our D-line.”
Eli Unutoa, younger brother of former standout Mo Unutoa, led the charge from right guard. The 6-5, 290-pound senior has offers from BYU, California, Hawaii and San Diego State.
“It feels good. Coaches were telling us, these are some big guys, 64 is a really good player,” Unutoa said of Kaimuki’s Sama Paama (6-4, 355), a commit to Washington. “It feels good, but we can’t be celebrating too early. We have to stay focused.”
For what it’s worth, Kapaa lost to Lahainaluna 30-10 in week one. Unutoa remembers well.
“Lahaina the first game was more physical, in my opinion,” he said.
Best defensive unit in Kapaa history? Perhaps. The Warriors certainly plays like a championship defense. The kicker to Kapaa’s success, the extra piece of great value, might just be their kicker, Chysen Lagunes-Rapozo. The senior was solid on PATs, providing the crucial difference throughout the game, and delivered as the Warriors’ punter.
Top to bottom, an immense amount of trust.
“There was some talking (between the teams) going on,” Telles-Kelekoma said. We came together and said, ‘Let’s focus.. Let’s do our jobs.’ One of my safeties, Keilan (Ibaan-McCarthy) told me, ‘Just do your job.’ The next play, we got the pick.”
Now it’s two-time defending state champion Lahainaluna standing between Kapaa and its first-ever title.
“It was a tough loss,” Telles-Kelekoma recalled about the nonconference loss to the Lunas. “We didn’t everyone here, so hopefully, we can challenge them. We’re focused (now). We know what we want.”