OIA Football
Kapolei reached new heights in prolific 2016 campaign


Fri, Oct 14, 2016 @ Kapolei [ 7:30 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
MOA(5-7-0) 3 6 0 09
KAP(10-3-0) 7 28 7 749
Taulia Tagovailoa 324 yd 4 TD
Alakai Yuen 236 yd 1 TD
Josh Kansana 83 yd 2 TD
Jaymin Sarono 87 yd 2 TD
Ryan Ramones 85 yd

The 2016 prep football season is special to Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez for a number of reasons.

For starters, the Hurricanes established a program-best double-digit win total with their 10-3 record. But for Hernandez — the only coach in the 20-year history of the program — it goes far beyond the on-field victories.

It was the one season that Hernandez enticed June Jones — who took the University of Hawaii football team to unprecedented success during his tenure in Manoa — to join his coaching staff as offensive coordinator.

And it's hard to argue that any individual benefitted more from Jones being around than Kapolei's then-second-year starting quarterback, Taulia Tagovailoa.

"The things that stands out the most about that season is Taulia," Hernandez said.

And for good reason.

Tagovailoa, listed on the 2016 Hurricanes' team roster as a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, led the state with 3,932 passing yards and 42 touchdowns through the air. It is the second highest single-season

He was intercepted just nine times on the year on his way to All-Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I Red Conference First Team honors.

"You know, I've coached 28 years and I've coached some really good quarterbacks and I've seen some really good quarters, but Taulia just kind of stood alone," Hernandez said. "Just his accuracy, his release was so quick — that just set him apart — and we were able to do so much offensively with him as the trigger-man."

Tagovailoa completed 61.3 percent (322 of 525) of his passes and averaged more than 302 yards per game. He registered a completion rate of 70 percent in three games that season, including wins over Campbell and Punahou that saw Tagovailoa throw five TDs without a pick.

As a freshman in 2015, Tagovailoa topped the 500-yard mark with six TDs and zero INTs in a victory over Castle. Among the other superlatives of his freshman campaign was a 60-pass game in a loss against Mililani — "his first career start," Hernandez points out — and a staggering 70 attempts in a win over Moanalua.

"What he did as a freshman, really, I don't know if it's gonna be replicated any time soon," Hernandez pondered.

Tagovailoa turned in another masterful performance against Moanalua as a sophomore in 2016, when he threw for 324 yards on 28-of-40 passing, with four TDs and no INTs. The Hurricanes' 49-9 win over Na Menehune on Oct. 14 — a fall Friday night at the Alvin Nagasako Sports Complex — extended their win streak to a season-best seven games.

The rout came two weeks after Kapolei had played its last regular-season game, a 50-12 thrashing of Nanakuli. The Hurricanes had finished as the second seed in the D1 Red Conference and were one of four teams to earn a first-round bye in the 12-team OIA tournament.

Despite the one-sided final score, the ‘Canes showed some early signs of rust as a result of the 14-day layoff. The offense went three-and-out on its first possession, including a couple of Tagovailoa incompletions.

But it didn't last long.

Tagovailoa was a perfect 4-for-4 passing on Kapolei's next drive, which started off with a 49-yard screen pass to running back Josh Kansana and culminated with a 10-yard TD pass from Tagovailoa to slotback Jaymin Sarono.

Hernandez said the situation was similar to one that the team faced in its season opener against Campbell.

"The first series Taulia got sacked and he went down in a heap and he missed a couple of series and you could just feel the air come out of everybody," Hernandez said.

That necessitated backup Leonard Lee, a starting safety on defense, to fill in at quarterback until Tagovailoa was able to return to the game.

"We had Leonard in at QB and we were okay, but we didn't have that same firepower; We'd go three-and-out, three-and-out. So it was really close in the first and second quarter and then Taulia came back and threw five touchdowns and we ended up winning, 38-0. So I think our team learned from that. We didn't panic, we tried to rely on the defense to create opportunities for us and hopefully we could turn those into points," Hernandez said.

Moanalua got a 31-yard field goal by Wyatt McMillan to cut the Kapolei lead to 7-3 after one quarter, but the home team caught fire in the second stanza.

The ‘Canes seized control with a 28-point second quarter; Kansana scored on runs of 40 and 43 yards and Tagovailoa hit Kaeo Alvarez-Ranan and Wyatt Perez for scoring strikes of 20 and 6 yards, respectively.

Hernandez said the second-quarter success was an example of how well his team was capable of playing with the right mindset.

"I think for our boys it was a matter of trying to keep them from getting overly excited. They were very excitable because of just this feeling of, ‘Wow, we're rolling. We're on a roll,' and as a head coach I try to keep them grounded and try to keep them looking not too far ahead; Just looking at the next play, looking at the next series, at the next quarter, at the next half — not the next game — and that was the tricky part because everything was clicking so well offensively," he explained.

Kapolei built upon its 35-9 halftime lead with two more scores after the break. Tagovailoa fired his fourth scoring strike with a 5-yard pass to Sarono late in the third quarter and 285-pound running back Antoneo Brown rumbled into the end zone from two yards out early in the fourth.

Hernandez was especially happy for Kansana, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior, who finished with 162 yards from scrimmage. He recalled a moment he shared with Jones on the team bench well after the final whistle.

"We were talking about Kansana and when we looked at the stats we looked at each other and smiled and he said, ‘Wow, we're idiots.' I said, ‘Why?' He said, ‘I can't believe we only got the ball to Kansana four times,' " Hernandez laughed.

"Kansana had two carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns and two receptions for 79 yards on two screens."

But Kansana's big game resounded with his coaches and teammates alike because of the adversity that he had gone through, both on and off the field.

"Josh Kansana had gone through a lot of personal issues: his mom had passed away, he had gotten an ACL tear and came back from it and this was the first game he was at full strength, so I think the biggest thing for me was the happiness that I saw with our guys to have him come back," Hernandez said.

Unfortunately for Kansana and the Hurricanes, disaster struck a week later in the semifinals of the OIA tournament. In a 33-27 loss to Farrington — a team it had beaten by three touchdowns in the regular season — Kansana suffered another torn ACL that ended his junior season.

"That (Moanalua) game was just a glimpse of what could have been with him. He had all the tools — unbelievable speed, power, strength — but he just wasn't the same again (after the second knee injury)," Hernandez lamented. "His senior year in 2017, he never really regained that speed and missed half of the season because of the knee rehab."

Despite being upset by the Govs, Kapolei had already locked up one of the OIA's four berths in the inaugural Open Division state tournament with its win over Na Menehune the week prior.

Although, that set-up an odd scenario for the OIA third-place game between Waianae and Kapolei — essentially for state-tournament seeding purposes.

"Well, see this is what I didn't like about the format of that game, is that before the game, the coaching staffs on both sides knew who the winner was going to play and who the loser was going to play. The winner was going to play top-ranked Saint Louis and we kind of laughed about it because in the beginning it was kind of a pillow fight. I mean, we don't play to lose, but it was just a weird game and both teams were playing not to get anybody hurt. We were trying to come out of the game unscathed so we ran the ball more than we had all season, because we didn't want our receivers to get hurt," Hernandez explained.

"To me, we shouldn't have any clue as to who we play. They should have said that after the game they will have a seeding meeting to decide who plays who."

Kapolei went on to a 27-15 win over the Seariders — who handed them a 35-14 home defeat back in first week of the regular season — but the bracket was ultimately flipped by the seeding committee and instead of a matchup with eventual-champion Saint Louis, Kapolei was to face Punahou instead.

"We had quietly wished — even though they were a tougher team — we were hoping that we were going to draw Saint Louis instead of Punahou and simply for the fact that we wanted the entire state to see Tua versus Taulia, because they had never played against each other ever and maybe never will," Hernandez imagined.

The Hurricanes got past the Buffanblu, 33-21, in the first round of the state tournament — one of the program's most monumental victories, to be sure — but were routed by defending champ Kahuku, 54-7, in the semifinals a week later.

"Kahuku went double-tight end with three backs in the backfield and took the air out of the ball," Hernandez recalled. "We never had a chance to possess the ball much. It was a great game plan and it worked perfectly for them. I mean, a lot of people say that, but that's the way to beat a potent offense, is to keep them off the field and that's what they did, so credit to them."

The 47-point loss to the Red Raiders — who went on to fall to Tua Tagovailoa and the Crusaders in the first-ever Open state final by a score of 30-14 — did little to diminish the season that was for Kapolei.

In addition to Taulia Tagovailoa's superb sophomore season — for which he earned Second Team All-Hawaii honors behind older brother, Tua — the Hurricanes also placed seven others on the All-Hawaii first or second teams.

Sarono, who led the state in receptions (114), receiving TDs (22) and was third in receiving yards (1,120), along with offensive lineman Josiah Haywood were named to the First Team offense, while receiver Wyatt Perez was a Second Team pick, along with offensive lineman Akoni Kapihe. The defense was well represented on the First Team by defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, linebacker Omar Mareko and Lee in the secondary, while punter Riley Asuncion picked up Second Team distinction.

"Myron, Leonard Lee and Omar Mareko, those were the stalwarts and those three were great leaders," Hernandez said.

"Even though our defense wasn't that ‘shut-down' defense — they didn't stop everybody — we were an opportunistic defense that created a lot of turnovers — Leonard had like 11 interceptions — so they created opportunities for the offense and Taulia and Jaymin Sarono, who put together the single best season in OIA history. It was a special team with special talent. Just think about what could have been if he had stayed," Hernandez added.

‘He' would be Taulia, of course, who left Kapolei after his sophomore season and finished out his prep career at Thompson High School in Alabaster, Alabama after the Tagovailoa family moved to the Cotton State when Tua enrolled at the University of Alabama.

Tagovailoa-Amosa, a cousin to Tua and Taulia, went on to play college football for Notre Dame, while Lee is on the roster for the hometown University of Hawaii. Several others on the 2016 Kapolei team continued their gridiron pursuits at the next level, including Boise State's Kukea Emmsley and Oregon's Treven Maae.

"That makes my Saturday mornings a lot of fun because I get to watch some of my players play. Everybody knows that's kind of what I'm about; I'm about education and stressing higher education through football," Hernandez said.

"It doesn't matter if you're playing D1 or D3, but if you want to pursue a higher education and use football to do it, then I'm all for that and always trying to help kids get to the next level."

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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