Stormy conditions at Farrington’s Edward Skippa Diaz Stadium on Thursday night created the perfect playground for Kapaa’s gargantuan trench Warriors. Behind the offensive line, Kapaa ran all over Kamehameha-Maui in a 61-7 blowout win in the Division II title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
Kapaa rotated players along the offensive line, but a bulk of the action went to the primary combination of senior tackles Kawika Rogers (6-6, 300 lbs) and Santana Hernandez-Martinez (6-1, 220), senior center Maximus Merseburgh (6-0, 300), junior guard Lono Aki (6-5, 420), and freshman guard Koa Kanakaole (6-4, 310),
“We performed as one,” Rogers said about the offensive line. “We didn’t just perform as a team. We performed as a family. Family means more to us.”
The dominant starting unit, weighing a combined 1,550 pounds, pounded their opponents in the trenches all night long, opening mile-wide running lanes for the Warrior rushers, who nearly averaged a first down every carry (9.5 yards).
Kapaa’s eight ball carriers combined for 477 rushing yards, setting a new state record for any division. The previous mark of 450 was set by Division I Waianae in 2007. Additionally, the Warriors rushing attack also broke the state record for rushing touchdowns in a game with seven. Three teams had previously tallied six touchdowns, with Division I Kailua doing so in 2001, and Division II’s Konawaena and Lahainaluna achieving the feat against each other in 2017’s memorable seven-overtime state final.
“Yessir! Our little brother,” Rogers said when asked about the Kapaa ball carriers. “We’re always promising that we’re gonna get them more, that we’re gonna break the state record. I’m glad we did, I’m glad we did.”
Behind the line, Solomone Malafu racked up an astounding 152 yards to lead all rushers. His total output came on just four carries, all of which were touchdown runs. More than half of Malafu’s total yards came on his first run of the game, a 98-yard touchdown run up the middle of the field on Kapaa’s first drive of the game. That set a new tournament record for longest rushing touchdown.
The opening play set a tone for the line and the run game, and the unit had no trouble meeting that high standard again and again, as shown on the very next Kapaa drive, when the Warriors moved 70 yards on seven straight carries, ending with quarterback Kapono Na-o’s 6-yard score.
As the rain fell harder and harder, the conditions never seemed to bother the Warriors. In fact, it may have even been advantageous.
“We practice in this weather all the time,” Kanakaole said about the rain. “We were prepared for it. It’s been raining so we’ve been expecting what to do when the ball is wet and our running game is just strong.”
True to his word, the torrential downpour only seemed to fuel Kapaa, yielding a second quarter that proved to be more fruitful than the first. A KS-Maui fumble set the Warriors up for the first of three rushing scores in the second frame. Malafu’s 10-yard touchdown run was followed by Kaikea Tandal’s 11-yard score. Malafu would then score again from a yard out to put the Warriors up 38-0 at the half.
Kapaa and Kamehameha-Maui traded passing touchdowns to start the second half. With their shutout now gone, the Warriors ground game quickly avenged the defense, traveling 65-yards in three plays to add their sixth rushing touchdown on Poki Tafea’s 11-yard touchdown with 2:43 left in the third.
The record breaker would come a quarter later, when Malafu scored his fourth rushing touchdown (Kapaa’s seventh) on a 43-yard carry in the final three minutes of a game that had long since been over.
With the game and season now finished, Rogers also sees his high school career draw to a close. He will soon have a big decision to make, as he fields several D-I collegiate offers.
“I’m gonna enjoy it for a little while,” Rogers said about his upcoming college decision. “We’ll see.”