POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 8:58 p.m. HST, Nov 11, 2011
For everyone who played football at Kapaa High School since 1990, there was always great natural beauty in their backyard, but no mantle on which to hoist their hopes and dreams. No Kauai Interscholastic Federation championship. No participation in the old Neighbor Island Football Championship. Not even a state-tournament berth.
That all changed with the Garden Island’s version of Monday Night Football. When Jonathan Paleka’s 27-yard field goal split the uprights at Vidinha Stadium, Waimea was denied and Kapaa — the program that had gone 21 seasons without a football title — finally returned to center stage with a 17-14 win.
The Warriors get a taste of the postseason on Saturday when they host Pearl City in the opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division II State Football Championships.
At Kapaa, it took an overhaul of many things, including the memory of a generation that had never experienced success at the varsity level.
PEARL CITY (9-2)
“The difference now is Morgado. He’s come and put a real focus on football and they all seem to be working well together,” athletic director Greg Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves was a wide receiver on the 1988 Kapaa team that was in the middle of three KIF titles in a row.
“(Morgado) has good attention to detail. It’s a really focused coaching staff. He’s really changed the culture of football here. He made the boys really believe they can win,” Gonsalves said.
After leading Kauai to four league titles in a row — to start a streak that ended at eight this season — Morgado has modified his aerial ambitions since arriving at Kapaa.
“When I was at Kauai, we were the most undersized team in the smallest league in the state. At Kapaa, we have a bigger brand of football player. We have the run- and-shoot, but we can also run the ball. It gives opponents more to deal with,” Morgado said.
Morgado has seen Pearl City, thanks in part to the magic of statewide telecasts. He knows about the Chargers’ dash and flash, but it’s the adrenaline rush of being in the big show that also concerns him.
“We can tell the kids all the rules and keys, but they’re kids and this is their first playoff game,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of nerves and anxiety.”
On paper: Kapaa (7-3) has a 6-foot, 190-pound running threat in quarterback John Das, a junior who passed for 501 yards and rushed for 525 with a combined 12 touchdowns. Das handed the ball often to Sendreck D’Sio, a 6-foot, 235-pound fullback, who led the team in rushing (570 yards) while still playing defensive end. D’Sio rushed for 188 yards in the win over Waimea.
The Warriors’ leading receiver, Kaikea Sonoda, has 13 receptions.
At Pearl City, for all of the passing prowess of junior Kaimi Paredes — more than 2,000 yards with 26 touchdowns — it’s the ground game that has been the stabilizer. The Chargers average nearly 135 rushing yards per game, but Kapaa has permitted just 54 rushing yards per game defensively.
The Warriors have seen plenty of speed between Waimea and Kauai, but Pearl City’s Daicorri Briscoe, Kelson Laboy and Shawn Lopez all average at least 16 yards per reception with a combined 18 touchdowns.
“Kauai spreads it out and throws like Pearl City, but I don’t think Kauai had the athleticism that Pearl City has,” Morgado said. “I don’t think we’re as big and physical as Waipahu. We can’t be something we’re not. Pearl City has a lot of speed and athleticism and that’s going to be tough to contend with.”
With his big blockers in the trenches, led by senior Austyn Pantolingan (6-0, 260) and aided by freshman Maka Ah Loo (6-1, 305), Morgado will probably keep the game plan as simple as possible.
“We have senior leadership with Austyn. Our O-line dominated the third round of the KIF,” Morgado said. “The D-tackles for Pearl City are tough, so our guys are going to have to keep going on this upward trend.”
Longtime offensive line guru Brian Derby has worked with Kapaa’s linemen for years. The result is a ground-and-pound team that averaged 165 rushing yards per game.
“Their defense also has a lot of speed and they cover a lot of ground,” Morgado said. “Waipahu was able to run on them, but it wasn’t easy. Forty-four (Chayse Tagalog) and 50 (Troy Barboza Scanlan) read their keys and react very quickly.”
Defensive tackle Tumua Masaniai (6-0, 275) and linebacker Kaulana Kaui (5-10, 195) lead Kapaa’s defense.
“Tumua’s been unblockable in the KIF. He rips it up on the inside,” Morgado said.
The skinny: The one common opponent of both teams was Kalani. The improving Falcons had a healthy roster early in the season and stayed close in a 27-26 loss to Kapaa at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 13.
Pearl City faced an injury-riddled Kalani squad more than a month later and escaped with a 35-29 victory, proving that it can win an aerial battle, but what happens if Kapaa can grind out yardage, move the chains and reduce possessions?
It would be easy to take a bend-and-don’t-break approach, but like the old UH Warriors under June Jones, Pearl City coach Kai Kamaka may opt to change the tempo and force Morgado’s hand with heavy doses of blitzes.
Pearl City had problems with communication on the field against Waipahu. When receivers made reads and communicated to Paredes, he couldn’t hear them because Waipahu’s band was playing at full tilt, Kamaka noted.
X factor: Two high-powered teams with relatively young coaches in an elimination scenario? In the win over Kalani, the Chargers were distracted and nearly lost because of more than 200 yards in penalties.
Traveling off-island for the first time this season will be a big test, but playing with discipline will be key for the Chargers.