Kapaa ends Lahainaluna's season

Nov. 12—The Warriors of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation prevailed over the host Lunas at Sue B. Cooley Stadium to advance to the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank /HHSAA Division I state football championships.

Kapono Na-O piled up 256 yards in rushing and passing, rushing for three touchdowns and passing for another. His night was full of long runs and even longer passes. But he agreed the biggest play was a short little run.

"Yes, definitely. There was no decision. All I could think of was the end zone, " said Na-O of the 2-point conversion that made the difference in getting Kapaa past Lahainaluna 29-28 in a taut battle of neighbor island unbeaten champions Saturday.

The Warriors of the Kauai Interscholastic Federation prevailed over the host Lunas at Sue B. Cooley Stadium to advance to the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank /HHSAA Division I state football championships. They play top-seeded Konawaena at Julian Yates Field on the Big Island on Saturday. The winner of that one goes to the championship game Nov. 25 at Mililani.

Na-O completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Evan Daligdig with 46 seconds left, and the quarterback then scored on the conversion.

All told, he rushed 24 times for 159 yards and completed three of five passes for 95 yards.

"He's been a workhorse for three years, " Kapaa coach Mike Tresler said. "Last year he got hurt. We gotta find that kid a place in college. He runs well and he throws well, so he'd be a good fit in the read-options that are so popular now."

After Na-O's conversion, the Lunas' last gasp drive made it to the Warriors 16-yard line with 8.5 seconds left. But time ran out after a complete pass to the Kapaa 10.

Kaulana Tihada's 19-yard touchdown with 1 :30 left appeared to be the decisive blow for the Lunas, but Lahainaluna still needed to make a final defensive stand, as the Warriors started their final drive at the Lahainaluna 49. That's when Na-O took control—again—with a pinpoint bomb to Daligdig near the front right corner of the end zone.

The three-time Maui Interscholastic League-champion Lunas came into the game at 5-0, having played an abbreviated schedule. Lahainaluna was forced to stop practicing and assess if the Lunas could play at all this season when more than half of the players and staff lost their homes—and much of their equipment—in the Lahaina wildfires of Aug. 8.

Although the Lunas' season was brief, it will remain one of the most memorable in Hawaii high school football history because of the adversity they overcame. The Lahainaluna seniors missed a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a good part of this one because of the wildfires.

"Both teams did a great job tonight, " Lahainaluna assistant coach Garret Tihada said. "Now, for our seniors, we tell them thank you for everything they did, from Big Boys to now. For the young kids, it's next year starts now."

Kuola Watson's second touchdown put Lahainaluna up 21-14 on a 7-yard run with 11 :52 left in the game. It capped a 99-yard drive after Kapaa lost a fumble at the Lunas 1.

Kapaa responded with a 63-yard drive, capped by Na-O's third rushing touchdown of the game, this one for 3 yards to tie the score at 21-all with 5 :57 left.

Na-O also scored two rushing touchdowns in the first half, which ended in a 14-14 tie.

Na-O kept for a 42-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1, and Kapaa took a 7-0 lead with 7 :22 left in the first quarter.

The momentum quickly switched, with Lahainaluna going up 14-7 on scoring runs of 1 yard by Tihada and 15 yards by Watson.

The running back Tihada scored on a direct snap, which was his fifth consecutive carry into the right side of the line, accounting for the final 21 yards of a 70-yard drive that consumed most of the second quarter.

Watson's score came with 1 :48 left in the half, after a bad punt snap by Kapaa gave the Lunas the ball at the Warriors 19.

But the Warriors' version of a two-minute offense was mostly quarterback runs. Na-O had a hand in all 65 yards of Kapaa's game-tying drive before the break.

He completed a 30-yard pass to Kamalei Gonsalves at the Lahainaluna 1 after keeping three times for 34 yards, and before running in untouched for the final yard with 17 seconds left Na-O carried six times for 54 yards on the opening drive of the second half. But the Lunas T.J. Borges recovered a Warriors fumble at the 1.

Tihada rushed for 142 yards for the Lunas.

Lahainaluna won four consecutive state championships in Division II from 2016 through 2019, beating Kapaa three times in the state final. Kapaa won the Division II title in 2021, the year after the season was canceled due to COVID-19.

"Nobody wanted to play us, and nobody wanted to play them, " Tresler said. "At the end it was, really ? It's over ? Two great football teams. When you have two great teams it comes down to a couple of plays.

"Because of what they've gone through, we talked a lot about etiquette, compassion. We have a lot of aloha for them. But when it came to the football, it was all business."