“We’ll be back.”
As the sun set in the background of ‘Iolani’s picturesque Eddie Hamada Field and stadium complex, Kapaa coach Phillip Rapozo wasn’t upset or discouraged despite losing to the Raiders in heartbreaking fashion, 29-24, Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Championship tournament.
“We’ll be back … somewhere,” said the coach, who even managed to crack a smile before addressing his squad. “This is just the beginning for our program.”
While Kapaa had its chances, the Warriors just couldn’t topple a battle-tested ‘Iolani squad that put an end to the Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion’s season.
The Raiders relied on gunslinger Austin Jim On who found reliable target Keoni-Kordell Makekau on a wide-open crossing route, and with 1:35 left in the game, the speedy receiver summersaulted into the end zone after being undercut by two defenders but held on to the ball to complete the eventual game-winning 25-yard score. While the two-point conversion was no good, the Raiders established a 29-24 advantage that would hold up despite a feverish Warrior comeback bid.
‘Iolani (7-3) advances to face undefeated No. 1 seed Lahainaluna or BIIF Division II champion Kamehameha-Hawaii in Friday’s state championship game slated for 4:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium.
“They’re a quality team, we just made one more play than we did,” said ‘Iolani coach Wendall Look after congratulating his worthy opponents and taking a deep breath of relief. “We’ve got to recover now, I can barely stand. We have a short week; we’ll take one day to recover then go back to work.”
The scrappy Kapaa squad had a chance to win the game as the clock expired, but backup quarterback Kurt Napoleon took the final snap from the Raiders’ 39-yard line and managed only a short a 12-yard pass to Shain Davis to end the game against ‘Iolani’s prevent defense. Napoleon, who was recently elevated from the junior varsity by Rapozo, entered the game late in the third period for Warrior senior passer Rudy Agoot who left the game with a concussion.
“You got two teams here that didn’t want to lose,” Look said. “No quit in any of them. You’ve got to give Kapaa a lot of credit, this game could have gone either way.”
‘Iolani cashed in two crucial Kapaa turnovers in the second quarter for what amounted to 10 critical points and built a 16-7 halftime lead.
On the first offensive play from scrimmage coming out of the halftime break, Kapaa showed it was ready for a battle and narrowed the deficit to 16-14 on a 71-yard run by the speedy Davis, who ran away from three ‘Iolani defenders and streaked down the sideline for a score. The touchdown energized the large contingent of supporters that traveled from the Garden Isle to support the Warriors. Kapaa’s defense also seemed to perk up following the score as the silver-capped squad delivered hit after hit on opposing ball carriers.
‘Iolani leaned on running back KJ Pascua as the shifty student-athlete ran successfully around the defensive unit set up to contain the middle of the field and scored on a relatively easy 10-yard scamper to put the Raiders ahead 23-14 with 4:09 remaining in the third quarter. Pascua finished the game with 53 hard-earned yards including two scores on 21 carries, and the bounce-back drive proved key to the Raiders’ quelling Kapaa’s momentum.
“The drive right after that run was huge. They had the momentum going into the half (after scoring), and coming out of the half (Kapaa moved to within a score of the lead) on one play,” Look said. “For us to come back and score was huge.”
Kapaa answered when, following a gutsy 19-yard run by Agoot on which he discarded three would-be tacklers—and possibly suffered his concussion on the final hit, Davis took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation and dashed up the middle to cut ‘Iolani’s lead to 23-21 with 10:56 remaining in the game.
Davis turned in a memorable offensive performance, rushing for 127 yards and all three of Kapaa’s touchdowns on 16 carries while also hauling in four receptions for 38 yards.
As ‘Iolani drove into Warrior territory to establish breathing room, Jim On inexplicably threw into triple coverage and was picked off by Kapaa defensive back Chaz Pacleb who returned the interception to his own 30-yard line with 9:02 left in the game. The Kapaa offense could not take advantage of the possession, though, and punted back to ‘Iolani.
The Warrior defense held the Raiders to a three-and-out on their ensuing possession, and after the visitors maneuvered to ‘Iolani’s 12-yard line, Noah Lamadrid promptly booted a 29-yard field goal to put Kapaa ahead 24-23 with 5:03 remaining in the contest—a lead that would prove to be the Warriors’ first and last of the game.
“That’s what you call football,” said Rapozo as he stood before his physically- and emotionally-spent players, many of whom shed tears after the agonizing outcome. “That’s why we came here—to battle. Unfortunately, we came out on the short side. I’m proud of my team, proud of my coaches, proud of our fans. Somebody had to lose today, and unfortunately, it was us.”
Rapozo was also upbeat about his team’s chances and looked ahead to next season with the possibility of Napoleon getting more reps and a shot at the starter’s role.
“The future is bright for us. Kurt is a sophomore—we brought him up from the J.V. and he gave us a chance,” Rapozo said. “We’ll be back.”
Note: The Star-Advertiser has learned that ‘Iolani senior offensive lineman Nathaniel Oishi has been offered preferred walk-on status by San Diego State. The 270-pounder has also received attention from UH.