For now, Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo is manning up and calling the Warriors’ season “a bust.”
When speaking to Hawaii Prep World after the team’s 21-14 loss to Lahainaluna for the state Division II football title Friday night, Rapozo was given a chance to scale back that thought and say something like, “This fantastic season didn’t end the way we wanted, but we accomplished a lot.”
But he didn’t say that.
You see, Rapozo’s Warriors have now lost two D-II state championship games in a row, and earlier this season, he was on the record saying, in effect, that nothing short of a state title would be good enough and that getting to the big game and losing would be a bust.
And he still feels that way after the squad’s highly charged comeback attempt fell short. Well, kinda sorta. He has an out at some point if he wants it. When the point-blank question, “You can’t possibly think it’s a bust now, right?” was posed, here’s what he said:
“Right now, the feeling is still the same. It’s a bust. But I’m pretty sure when we get to sit back and reflect, I might not want to say it’s a bust. I’m so disappointed right now. I feel so bad for the kids. We fought. Those guys (Lahainaluna) made plays at the end. If we could have gotten the ball earlier, maybe we could have pulled it off. When our back was against the wall, I guess we made some bad decisions. They’re kids. They’re young men. Coaches made bad decisions during that game.”
Two big things got in the way of the comeback — an offside penalty and a personal-foul penalty on Lahainaluna’s last possession that handed the Lunas two first downs. Those mistakes cost Kapaa some hard-earned momentum that took them from a 21-0 halftime deficit to 21-14 in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors got to within seven points on Teili Fonua‘s beautiful, arcing touchdown strike to Gabe Keener down the left sideline.
That play got the prideful Warriors’ defense motivated. After the kickoff, with 7:04 remaining, Kapaa completely stuffed Lahainaluna in its own end. Linebacker Izaya Valeria led that effort with two tackles for loss and defensive lineman Ikona Fernandez and linebacker Mana Carvalho combined to make another tackle.
The Lunas went back to punt, but Unaloto Pahulu was forced to run due to pressure from Kapaa’s Kurt Napoleon and he was stopped short of a first down on a hard hit by Alii Brown with 5:04 remaining.
The Warriors (8-2), however, could not sustain a drive and turned the ball over on downs when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
“We went in at halftime and thought we had to come out here and dominate as a defense,” Valeria said. “We were working hard toward that and we just stuck together, but, sadly, at the end we couldn’t pull it through. It hurts. It REALLY hurts. I wanted to take it home for the first time in forever. I thought we could do it, but Lahainaluna played a helluva game, man. Props to them. They deserved it tonight.”
Forever is correct. A Kauai Interscholastic Federation team has never won a state football championship.
The term “sadly” that Valeria used also is very much in tune with how the Warriors were feeling afterward.
While the two teams were being presented their trophies, linebacker Mana Kupihea, Fernandez and defensive lineman Tryston Refamonte stood behind the full-team’s semi-circle. They were crying and in disbelief.
“It’s sickening,” Kupihea said. “It’s the worst feeling. It’s over. We could have had it. I guess we didn’t work hard enough.”
Added Keener: “Being the Warriors, we’re going to go down with the fight. It’s not a good feeling (to lose), but we did everything we could.”
About his TD reception against a double team, Keener said, “When I saw that pass coming, I know I didn’t have the option to drop it or let them catch it. I had to catch it.”
So as time goes on, Rapozo will sit back and reflect before he begins preparation for next year’s try for a fourth straight Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship and a spot in the D-II state tournament that goes with it.
“I feel for the boys,” he said. “I feel for our school and our community. I wish we got it done.
“You see the love right here,” he added when a few of his players came up to put lei on him. “These kids, they bust their tail off. You know, we went through some adversity this year. More than people think. They only know about what happens on the field. We had some adversity and lost some players before the playoffs, but that’s no excuse.”