A shorter version of this story appears in Saturday’s Star-Advertiser.
The 2011 season wasn’t so long ago for the Kapaa Warriors.
Current offensive line giant Maka Ah Loo was just a freshman then.
The Warriors won the KIF, then blanked Pearl City 7-0 in the first round of the Division II state tourney. Then came a hot Saturday afternoon at Eddie Hamada Field.
The visiting Warriors jumped to a 13-0 lead, using some precision passing by quarterback John Das, who accounted for his team’s two TDs. They led 13-3 at the half, and then, before a large, boisterous gathering of green-clad Kapaa fans, the lead slipped away.
Kapaa tried to ground-and-pound its way to victory, but then-standout wide receiver Tanner Nishioka scored on TD runs of 2 and 6 yards in ‘Iolani’s 17-13 comeback win.
Philip Rapozo, who switched a few times between roles as a JV coach and equipment manager over the years, remembers it well. The current Warriors coach still wonders about that game. How Das hardly threw the ball in the second half.
“We never adjusted to the jet sweep,” Rapozo said.
Raiders coach Wendell Look was grateful after that ’11 battle with Kapaa.
“I feel like we escaped with one,” he said that afternoon.
Times have changed, though, and there’s barely a player on either team that was active that day. Freshmen don’t play varsity football in the ILH. Ah Loo is now a chiseled and lean 265 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He’s a mainstay on an offensive line that prides itself on its ability to smash defensive fronts.
“This team is a whole lot different,” Rapozo said, comparing Kapaa’s current team with the ’11 edition. “Our special teams is much better. We’re a spread team, but we run the ball a lot, and we’re a lot more disciplined on defense.”
It was heartbreaking, but time has healed the wound for the Warriors. When Kapaa (7-1) and ‘Iolani (6-3) meet on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA D-II State Championships, it’ll be two very different teams from the ones that met three years ago.
“In 2011, we thought, ‘Maybe we can beat these guys. Now, we know,” Rapozo said. “Like I tell the boys, we’re not worried about the past. Much respect to ‘Iolani. It’s a big accomplishment, being seven-time (D-II) state champs. The mystique of ‘Iolani, we can’t worry about that. We’ve just got to go there and play football.”
The Warriors withstood Pearl City’s offensive exploits and rallied for a 30-22 win in Lihue last week. Kapaa outscored the Chargers 16-0 in the second half, using a combination of ballcarriers out of their spread formation: Shain Davis (67 rushing yards), Kekoa Kaluahine-Cacal (50), Elijah Gouveia-McCarthy and quarterback Rudy Agoot (34). In all, the Warriors rushed for 176 yards on 37 carries, and threw the ball just eight times.
“No. 3 (Davis) is a tough runner. He’s small, but shifty, elusive and has good vision,” Look said.
The longtime Raiders coach saw a very patient team.
“They manage the game and don’t try to do too much,” he said.
‘Iolani has faced its share of big, imposing smashmouth teams over the years. More often than not, however, the Raiders find ways to stay in games.
“Their offensive line is their strength,” Look said. “They’ve got some size and they’re pretty athletic. Every team we play is pretty much bigger than us.”
This season, part of that methodology has been a ball-control offense with quarterback Austin Jim On at the controls. The senior southpaw doesn’t have gaudy numbers, but he has been efficient and a sure ballhandler as the Raiders run misdirection plays again and again on long, no-huddle drives.
Austin Jim On has completed 58 percent of his pass attempts for 1,438 yards, 13 TDs and eight picks. He has run with the ball just 24 times (for five yards), and though he’s not a threat to run, somehow the Raiders continue to pick the lock, decoding defense after defense in D-II play.
Running backs K.J. Pascua (851 yards, 15 TDs, 6.5 yards per carry) and Storm Lotomau (596 yards, 10 TDs, 5.3 per carry) have been steady and sure. Tamatane Aga has emerged as a key blocker from the slot, and UH commit Kamuela Borden (6-3, 241) anchors the offensive line.
Jim On has a game-breaking wide receiver in junior Keoni-Kordell Makekau (5-9, 162), who has 35 catches for 564 yards and four TDs. Makekau is also one of the best placekickers in the ILH. Tyler Teruya (36-300-3) and Connor Ohira (25-312-3) have been reliable possession receivers.
Rapozo said the Warriors have seen similar offensive concepts — the trapping offensive linemen and jet sweeps — from KIF foes Kauai and Waimea.
Kapaa’s defense, with defensive end Mana Kupihea (6-0, 175), DT Kapena Texeira (5-7, 245), linebackers Mosese Fififta (6-0, 220), Brooks Bethel (6-0, 190) and Austyne Carvalho-Toloai (5-9, 190), was busy against Pearl City.
“They like to bring a little pressure. They’re very active,” Look said. “Especially 35 (Fifita) and 32 (Carvalho-Toloai). They’ve got some athleticism with their front six and cover guys.”
Kapaa defensive back Bryce Dato (5-6, 145) and defensive lineman Sosaia Koli (5-11, 269) have also stepped up, Rapozo said. Dato had five pass deflections.
“Bryce struggled a little bit (against Pearl City), but after that he was there,” Rapozo said. “Last week, we were jittery. I think we’ll do a lot better this week.”
After a Wednesday night parents meeting, Rapozo said the Warriors are coming to ‘Iolani in full force again. Look expects a lot of green in the bleachers.
“They feed a lot off their fans. They’re riding a lot of enthusiasm and energy. That’s helpful anytime when you’re traveling,” he said.