Welcome to the upper echelon, Hurricanes.
It’s taken 15 seasons for Darren Hernandez and his Kapolei football program to join the elite teams at the top of the OIA food chain, but the Hurricanes have done that, notching their 10th victory this season and a berth in the semifinals of the Open Divison in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships with a 33-21 win over Punahou on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.
Not only did Kapolei win its first state tournament game as a Division I team, but it won for just the second time in 10 tries against the ILH.
Kapolei has come a long way since its last game against an ILH opponent — a 20-0 shutout loss to Pac-Five in 2011.
Imagine that. A Kapolei team getting shut out against Pac-Five.
Punahou couldn’t slow down a Kapolei offense that scored touchdowns on its first three drives of the second half. The Hurricanes shut out the Buffanblu 13-0 in the fourth quarter and were led by sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who recorded his 10th 300-yard passing game already with a superb night.
Tagovailoa finished 28-for-37 for 367 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. It gave him 41 touchdown passes this season and moved him to third on the single-season passing list, trailing only record-holder Timmy Chang of Saint Louis and Pac-Five’s PJ Minaya.
“You know the saying when you play together, bigger things happen and that’s what we did today,” said Tagovailoa, who already is 10th on the career passing list as well.
Wyatt Perez came up big with eight receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown, but it was senior receiver Jaymin Sarono who continued to shine as Tagovailoa’s go-to-guy, especially in the red zone. Sarono had nine catches for 87 yards and four touchdowns to give him 21 TD receptions this season. He is officially the first player in Hawaii high school history with 100 receptions in one season.
“It wasn’t just me and (Tagovailoa),” Sarono told the Star-Advetiser’s Jason Kaneshiro. “We had Wyatt Perez opening things up for me and me opening things up for him. Throughout two years we’ve built a great connection and were just trying to move forward.”
Kapolei secured its first 10-win season in the 15-year history of the program and has wins over Campbell, Farrington, Mililani, Waianae and Punahou in the same season.
That resume alone puts you in elite status.
The Hurricanes will now get to take their best shot against defending state champion Kahuku. The Red Raiders are 6-1 all-time against the Hurricanes and have ended Kapolei’s season each of the last two years.
Hernandez is all too familiar with the champions from the North Shore, but will take the best team he’s ever had with him into next Friday night’s semifinal at Aloha Stadium.
“How’s that for a prize?” Hernandez joked. “We’ll enjoy this tonight and go back and look at their film. If you want to be the best you have to go against the best. There’s no avoiding Kahuku. Kahuku is like a mountain, like there’s a big mountain in front of you. They’re unbelievable. … They’re almost like freaks how good they are, it’s amazing.”
To be fair, Hernandez has a few freaks of his own.
Just check the record book.