They’ve come close before and they came close again Saturday.
The Kapaa Warriors fell just short of giving the Garden Island football ohana a Division II title in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Despite a 19-point halftime lead, the Warriors (7-3) are going home without that elusive koa trophy after a 34-32 loss to No. 6 Lahainaluna in the first game of a championship tripleheader at Aloha Stadium.
“That’s why they’re the best team in D-II,” Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo said about the Lunas in the locker room afterward. “They’re the standard. We had our chance. We won the first half. Unfortunately, they won the second. That’s what happens when you get two good teams.
“I think the sun got to us. We (the Warriors on the bench) were in the sun the whole game. Kind of bummed. It’s nothing we can control. It definitely hurt us. Somebody has to stand in the sun and it was us.”
Kapaa had no answer for Lahainaluna (11-0) in the second half as Joshua Tihada scored three of his four TDs to bring them back — 26-14, 26-21 and 27-26.
The Warriors, however, got to within 34-32 on Kahanu Davis‘ 1-yard TD pass to Tyson Tranilla with 2:17 to go. It all came down to a 2-point conversion try. Representatives of the HHSAA were in the back of the end zone, wondering if they were about to have a repeat of last year’s 75-69, seven-overtime D-II final in which the Lunas beat Konawaena.
“We tried to pass because Lahainaluna’s defense was stout,” Rapozo said. “It’s one of the hardest plays. It’s not easy to get a 2-point conversion.”
Davis took the snap and escaped a heavy rush and was able to get a pass off to Lanakila Pagtolingan in the right corner of the end zone. The ball went off of Pagtolingan’s outstretched fingertips as he was being pushed in the back by Lunas’ defensive back Tre Rickard.
“You can look at that play a thousand times and say, ‘I should have done this,’ ” Rapozo said. “He missed it, barely. I thought it might have been pass interference.”
Prior to Saturday, the Warriors’ farthest foray to a state championship came in 2015 and 2016, when they lost to Radford (30-16) and then Lahainaluna (31-24) in state D-II finals.
In the first half, Ryno Banasihan‘s running and a stifling Warriors defense got the job done. Field goals by Chysen Lagunes-Rapozo, including a state-tournament record 55-yard kick, also helped Kapaa take a 26-7 lead.
Banasihan finished with 197 yards rushing, but methodical ball control by the Lunas (11-0) in the second half kept the ball out of his hands after the break.
Early in the second half, with that 19-point lead, Kapaa was knocking on the door, but fumbled it away. That was the beginning of the momentum shift.
“Did (the fumble) take something out of the team at that moment?” Rapozo said. “Of course. I mean, yeah. We’re not gonna blame anybody and say that’s why we lost the game. It’s a 14-point swing, but hey, that stuff happens in football. A little thing turned into a big thing and that’s what football is about.”
The task of a KIF team winning a state title will continue. Kapaa’s rival, Kauai High lost three times in the D-II title game — to Kaiser 17-7 in 2013, to ‘Iolani 24-17 in 2009, and to King Kekaulike 22-20 in 2006.
“As sad as we are right now, I’m even prouder of this team. These boys just fought,” Rapozo said. “They just kept going. We didn’t lay down and die. We kept going and so did Lahaina. They’re a great team. They’re not a good team. They’re a great team. They’ve proven that. They’ll probably be back here again next year.”
A year ago, Hilo won the Big Island’s first state title with a 35-19 victory over Damien in the middle tier. Maui now has four state titles. Aside from King Kekaulike’s 2006 championship, Lahainaluna pulled through with D-II crowns in 2016 and 2017 and this year.
Lagunes-Rapozo, the nephew of the head coach who kicked those long field goals, may have a future at the next level, according to Rapozo.
“He’s a D-I prospect, man,” he said. “All those D-I schools out there should grab him. He’s been a big weapon for us all year and he showed that today. I think he has a great future in football. He’s a great kid with good grades. I’m hoping he opened some eyes today.”