HALAWA — Lahainaluna scored in all three phases to beat Kapaa, 21-14, Friday night to capture its first First Hawaiian Bank Division II state football championship.
"I can feel Lahaina right now just raging, waiting for us to come back with the trophy," said Kupono Kahae-Ampong, whose punt block led to his team's first score.
It was the Lunas' first major title since winning the old Neighbor Island Football Championship in 1997, the final year of the tri-island series that involved champions from the Big Island, Kauai and Maui. It was Lahainaluna's fourth title attempt in Division II; its previous losses were to Iolani, now in Division I. The Raiders played for the D1 title after the Lunas' game.
"Well, I thank Iolani for not being here," joked Lahainaluna co-coach Garret Tihada. "But it's great It's great."
It took all three phases of the game to contribute to the win. Special teams jumped started the Lunas when Kupono Kahae-Ampong blocked Kurt Napoleon's punt that Siale Hafoka returned 23 yards for the first TD of the game early in the second quarter.
"I didn't know if I had a chance (to block the punt), Kahae-Ampong said. "I just put my hands up."
Lahainaluna then surprised Kapaa with a rare pass, a 39-yard completion from Etuati Storer to Hafoka to the Warriors' 5. After an illegal procedure penalty and a 3-yard gain, Kiliona Keohuloa took a short backward toss from Joshua Tihada and scored on a 7-yard run.
In the third quarter, Bailey Honda returned an interception 55 yards for TD to open the Lunas' lead to 21-0 early in the second half.
"That's how you win games," Tihada said. "You win all three phases."
The Warriors made it game with second-half TDs fron Kapena Texeira's 1-yard TD run and Teili Fonua's 32-yard TD pass to Gabe Keener. But deficit proved too deep for the Warriors to overcome.
"Especially when you play a team that can run the ball, run the clock out, it's hard," Kapaa coach Philip Rapozo said. "Hats off to Lahainaluna, coach Tihada, coach Watson and the crew. They did a heck of a job."
The Warriors appeared to have a golden opportunity late in the game when Lahainaluna faced a fourth-and 21 from its own 9. Punter Unatolo Pahulu, who earlier gained 16 yards on fake punt on fourth-and-6 from Lahainaluna's 24, fell three yards shy of a first down on another fake punt after an 18-yard gain to the Lahainaluna 27. On the snap, a Kapaa player was still trying to run off to his sideline, though not flag was thrown.
"He thought he was going to get blocked," Tihada said of Pahulu's decision to run, as opposed to thinking he would get a free play in hopes of a 12th player on the field penalty.
"That happened many times (in the game)," Tihada explained, "so it was real even on that. It was a penalty, but I'm glad they didn't call it both ways."
Kapaa took over at the Lahainaluna 27 with 5:04 left. After Leighton Moniz was dropped for a 1-yard loss, the Warriors tried an end-around pass from receiver Napoleon that was incomplete. The next two downs, Fonua passes deep toward the end zone also were incomplete, the second on fourth down was dropped.
"We tried to do too many things," Rapozo said. "Not going out in the right formation. A little panic you could say."
Lahainaluna took over on downs with 4:03 left, converting two first downs along the way and eventually punted with 22 seconds left. Kapaa got the ball at its own 27 with 13 seconds left. A 10-yard pass from Fonua to Keener ended when the Warriors could not get off snap to ground the ball to stop the clock.
That the Lunas were able to score in all three phases reflects the team effort.
"For me it's amazing," Honda said. "For the team, it feels unreal. "We're on cloud nine right now. We knew we could do it, but it's just about my team…teamwork was the real mantra of this team."
The Lunas also avenged a 21-0 preseason loss.
"Like I told the team all week, we beat them preseason, but that's a whole different time," Rapozo said. "I thought we were focused, as far as that. I didn't think that win affected us. We came in focused, they just made the plays."
There is another phase that Lahainaluna excels, besides offense, defense and special teams. The players performed their alma mater in Hawaiian on the field. Later in the locker room, they sang a doxology in the Hawaiian language with perfect enunciation. Tihada said Lori Gomez teaches the players twice a week to sing. Besides the alma mater and doxology, the players also sing Oli Mahalo, usually when receiving something, such as players' meals
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