It happened so quickly, it was hard to process exactly what transpired in a matter of two hours at Kozuki Stadium last Saturday afternoon.
Six-time defending Division II state champion ‘Iolani was dominated on its own home field in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships against Kauai, losing 28-7 in a game that really wasn’t even that close.
To see the mighty Raiders, winners of 12 straight games in the state tournament and seven of the last eight Division II state titles, get overpowered so easily by Kauai was stunning. The Red Raiders became the second outer-island team to beat ‘Iolani in the state tournament. The Raiders are 16-3 overall in states, losing to Kauai, King Kekaulike in the 2006 semifinals and Campbell in the ’04 title game.
‘Iolani had been even more dominant at home in the state tournament, winning each of its previous six games on Eddie Hamada Field while outscoring opponents 172-91. Just another stat that made Saturday’s loss even more shocking.
Kauai controlled the game with an offensive line anchored by 6-foot-5, 320-pound center Devan Ferreira. The Red Raiders called 59 runs and only six passes, churning up over 330 rushing yards.
That’s nothing new for ‘Iolani, which has been able to overcome weaknesses in the trenches by scoring points. However, the Raiders finished with only seven against Kauai, matching the 28-7 loss to the Sabers in the ’04 title game as their lowest-scoring game ever in states.
That’s what happens when your first four possessions end like this: Fumble, Fumble, Fumble, Interception.
After halftime, even when the Raiders finally scored, it was clear they weren’t going to get enough opportunities to mount a comeback. ‘Iolani simply couldn’t get Kauai off the field when it needed.
The loss means a new champion will be crowned for the first time since 2006. But don’t think this is the end for ‘Iolani by any means.
Quarterback Austin Jim On, who clearly was rattled by the Kauai defense, will be back next season with a full year of reps under his belt. Even while battling senior Easton Tsubata for much of the season for the starting job, Jim On threw for 1,837 yards and 20 touchdowns with only seven picks and a very good 67.5 completion percentage (166-for-246). Running back Jordan Ross, who struggled with injuries the second half of the season yet still averaged 7.3 yards on each of his 100 carries, is only a sophomore. So is receiver Keoni-Kordell Makekeau, who set a school record with 220 receiving yards in a win over Pac-Five and had 65 catches for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
Talented defensive backs J.T. Los Banos and Max Look graduate, but in will step Quintin Slade-Matautia, who had 14 tackles against Kauai. Unless of course, he decides to play linebacker. The offensive line, minus three-year starting center Spencer Kiehm, was also young.
And all the injures ‘Iolani dealt with this year? All that meant is more playing time for the underclassmen.
Damien has improved each year under coach Eddie Klaneski and Kip Botelho is always capable of putting together a passing offense at Pac-Five scary enough to put up points against Division II teams. Saint Francis should also be better in Year 2 of its varsity football program.
Nonetheless, the ILH is still ‘Iolani’s to lose, which it hasn’t since 2003. With Kaiser, which is as good as any OIA Division II team we’ve seen in quite awhile, moving up to the Red next season, and MIL champion Lahainaluna taking some hits to graduation, the Raiders will be right there in the middle of things again.
This is a school used to winning and you can bet the players on this team who are back next season just had a giant chip placed on their shoulders that won’t go away all offseason. Did ‘Iolani get complacent with all of its success? Who knows. One thing that is definitely for sure is these kids will be motivated to get back to the top.
And it’s evident, looking at all of the underclassmen on this year’s roster, that they will have the talent to do so.