Not that the top-seeded Kapaa Warriors needed any help.
Just to make sure, near perfect conditions — no rain or wind at Skippa Diaz Stadium — began to go awry at kickoff when Kapaa and Kamehameha-Maui on Thursday night just as a Kapaa video operator noticed and said, “Nice weather tonight.”
By the middle of the second quarter, it was a torrential downpour, blowing east to west rather than the usual mauka-to-makai. Dropped snaps. Fumbles. Bad snaps. Almost all by the MIL D-II champion KS-Maui Warriors. Kapaa’s 61-7 runaway win ended a seven-game losing streak in the Division II state championship finals.
They did it was a first-year head coach, former Hawaii defensive back Mike Tresler. The rain didn’t seem to matter, partly because most of Kapaa’s games at Vidinha Stadium had healthy downpours on those Saturday afternoons.
“Our kids took care of the football. They were able to control the line of scrimmage,” Tresler said. “We got one, Kauai. This is for everybody, everybody who has been part of the past games. This is big. This is for our island and I’m very proud to be a representative and let’s go celebrate this.”
He had been an assistant coach at Kapaa for years. Kapaa lost some heartbreakers to nemesis Lahainaluna in recent years before the Lunas packed up and left for Division I. This season was a little different.
“It comes down this: we have a great coaching staff and the kids bought in. They adopted our whole motto about football family. Stronger and more united as a team, and they played for each other,” Tresler said.
Tresler is still in good shape, though he couldn’t escape the Gatorade bath when time expired. As with just about everything else in Kapaa’s perfect 8-0 season, the Warriors executed under pressure. Senior wide receiver Poki Tafea and senior linebacker Connor Payomo delivered the ice-cold bath that drenched Tresler and two assistant coaches as the celebration ensued.
“I told myself I would be a little more nimble,” he said. “That’s the celebration. I don’t want to get more wet. I was already wet.”
Kapaa’s 2021 state championship closes the book on the longest high school football season in Hawaii history. The game was one for the elements and working men at the point of contact. There were many moments when Kapaa’s control of the line of scrimmage, mostly out of jumbo formation, was a throwback to Kahuku’s 2015 state championship team. Kapaa rushed for 408 yards in the first three quarters and finished with 477 yards on 50 carries.
Two-way sensation Solomone Malafu led with 152 rushing yards on four carries — and four TDs. The first was a stunning 98-yard jaunt up the middle on Kapaa’s first series.
“First, thanks to God. They came out with everything. First time playing them and we just came out and played how we practice,” Malafu said. “This means a lot to our team, our school and especially the community. There were always there for us and supported us when we were in need.”
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior was Kapaa’s mike ‘backer on defense and finished with five tackles. He also came up with a spectacular interception in the second quarter on a post-pattern pass by Kamaka-Bracye.
“Oh, my goodness. That guy is a stud. He can play at all levels,” Tresler said. “I hope he returns and plays with us next year if somebody doesn’t pick him up. He’s an incredible person. He’s a 3.9 student. Hopefully, he gets looks and offers. He’s a great kid. I can’t say enough about him.”
Defensive tackle Bruno Likio and Eli Keoho also had five tackles each.
While the offensive line earned its respect by powering the unit to 112 points in two state-tournament games, the defense nearly threw its fifth shutout. Kamehameha-Maui quarterback Makana Kamaka-Brayce was limited to 96 passing yards, 7-for-26, with no touchdowns while facing pressure all night. The talented sophomore had passed for 369 yards and four TDs in a semifinal win over Kaiser a week ago.
Kamaka-Brayce’s touch on the ball drew wows from an enthused, yet modest crowd — mostly Kapaa supporters — at Skippa Diaz Stadium in the first quarter, but there was hardly an open receiver after that. KS-Maui (5-3) finished with 164 yards of total offense (3 yards per play), finishing with their lowest point total of the season. The young Warriors, missing nine players (according to a site official) due to injuries and health and safety protocols, had scored at least 26 points in five of their six previous games. Only Lahainaluna, the MIL D-I champion, kept the offense in check for a 31-13 win.
Kapaa’s defense, like KS-Maui’s, has fair size and tremendous teamwork. While the offense will get its notoriety for the size and power of its linemen, Kapaa’s defense allowed only 24 points all season. Malafu was the calmest of all the Warriors in the midst of jubilant celebration.
“First, I want to shout out my namesake, my grandpa. He’s always been there for me and he was with me at this game,” Malafu said. “And shout out to our team.”
Tresler is hoping players like Malafu get plenty of exposure this offseason.
“He’s legit. He’s a great athlete so the sky’s the limit for him,” he said. “People already have him on the radar. We’ll work on that”
After the trophy presentation and more celebration, the Warriors headed to their cozy confines for the night: Farrington’s gym. Lahainaluna spent two days there before the D-I semifinals last week. Getting hotel rooms during peak tourist season is never easy, but the Warriors embraced their temporary digs.
“I turned it around. As a head coach, you keep your team motivated, that’s part of your job. I used all of that as motivation,” Tresler said. “That helped. I guess they didn’t expect two teams from the outer islands and for us, it worked out absolutely perfect.”
Tresler thanked his wife and family, and a long list of supporters who helped Kapaa get to this point.
“I can’t think of everybody right now, but thank you for all you guys’ support,” he said. “This is what led to and these are deserving of their championship.”