Defense Propels Hilo to Sixth Straight Victory
by Josh Pacheco
With just under three minutes to play and a two point lead in its favor, the Konawaena Wildcats only needed to run the clock, protect the football, and pick up at least one first down to secure a homecoming victory.
On a second down play at Hilo High’s 44 yard line, however, a bad hand off from Brandon Howes to Dishon Cho turned the game upside down.
Hilo’s Donovan “Makana” Josue-Ma`a picked up the fumble on Konawaena’s bad exchange and ran it 55 yards for the go ahead touchdown, giving Hilo a 21-16 victory at Julian R. Yates Field Friday night.
The finish highlighted a standout game between two dominant defenses. The Vikings, who never led at any point in the game before Josue-Ma`a’s touchdown return, sent pressure into the Wildcats’ backfield all evening. By the end of the night, Hilo had forced two turnovers and sacked Howes three times.
“That defense has so much heart, and so much resiliency,” said Hilo coach David Baldwin. “They don’t flinch. They are anxious to get back on the field. They are excited to have another four downs to play. They don’t see it as adverse. They see it as an opportunity, and that defensive mindset is really good.”
Konawaena (6-2 overall, 5-1 BIIF) still had a chance to engineer a game winning drive with 1:55 remaining in the game and the ball at its own 30 yard line. Howes picked up a first down with an 11 yard run to get up to the 41 yard line on the drive’s very first play. A holding call would negate another Howes run and move the Wildcats back 17 yards.
In the next few plays, the game’s officiating crew skipped a down on the field. On first-and-long after the hold, Howes was sacked by Isi Holani, setting up a second-and-41 at the Konawaena 10 yard line. Howes threw an incomplete pass on the next play to set up third down.
A timeout was called by the Wildcats, and during the stoppage, the down marker was changed to fourth down without an explanation. Following the timeout, Howes completed a 25-yard pass over the middle of the field to Chase Takaki with less than a minute to play, but instead of a fourth-and-16 play to keep the game alive, the Wildcats lost the football, allowing Hilo to run out the clock.
The Wildcats’ offense had its best success against Hilo on the game’s opening drive. Konawaena put together an eight play, 54-yard drive, capped off by Howes’ three-yard touchdown pass to Dishon Cho to give Kona a 7-0 lead with 9:29 left in the opening quarter.
Howes, who played last year at Kamehameha-Hawai`i, completed 21 of 37 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Later in the quarter, a 32-yard punt return from Hilo’s Aven Kualii gave the Vikings great field position at the Wildcats’ 16-yard line. Five plays later, running back Tristan Spikes tied the game with a three-yard touchdown run with 3:42 remaining in the first.
Spikes, who Baldwin said was the most underrated running back in the league before the game, crossed the century mark with 110 yards on 23 carries.
Not to be outdone, Konawaena’s Dishon Cho flashed his own special teams return magic. On the ensuing kickoff, he broke through a huge crease in Hilo’s special teams coverage and broke off a 62 yard return to the Vikings’ 30 yard line. The Wildcats couldn’t march far down the field, leading to a 40-yard field goal from John Replogle to give the Wildcats a 10-7 advantage with 2:12 remaining in the first quarter.
Replogle, who has been given the nickname “Touchback Johnny” for his consistency on limiting returns on kickoffs, should probably also get a nickname for his strong leg on field goals. The 40-yard kick was his eighth field goal made on the season. Four of those field goals were made from at least 40 yards away.
The score remained that way until early in the fourth quarter. In the 28 minutes and 32 seconds between scores, both teams combined for eleven punts. Hilo did have a chance to tie the game, however, late in the third quarter with a 36-yard field goal opportunity from Rayce Takayesu, but the kick fell about two yards short of the crossbar, keeping the score at 10-7.
Both teams took chances in the fourth quarter with the game at stake. Early in the fourth, Hilo tried to convert a fourth-and-two at its own 49, but a low snap bounced by quarterback Sione Atuekaho, resulting in a four yard loss. Four plays later, Brandon Howes found Cameron Howes for a 24-yard touchdown strike to increase Konawaena’s lead to 16-7 with 9:40 left to play.
Hilo (7-1, 6-0) responded with its best offensive drive of the game. On a third-and-three play, Tristan Spikes raced off to his right and gained 45 yards to get the Vikings deep into Konawaena territory. Three plays later, Christian “Malu” Lapilio finished the drive off with a 17-yard touchdown run to get the Vikings within two points with 5:49 remaining on the clock.
Both teams clinched the top seed in their respective divisions last week, rendering Friday’s game meaningless in relation to the standings. It will be hard to convince anyone that next week’s games will be meaningless when both teams play rivalry games. Hilo faces Waiakea next Friday at Wong Stadium while Konawaena travels to Kealakehe that same night.
Division II BIIF tournament seeding set
In Friday’s other league contest, Hawai`i Preparatory Academy picked up a key road win, prevailing by the score of 41-24 over Kamehameha-Hawai`i. The win improved HPA to 4-2 in league play and clinched the second seed in Division II.
Ka Makani will host Kamehameha-Hawai`i on Sat., Oct. 19 in one of two Division II semifinals. The other game, fourth-seeded Honoka`a at top-seed Konawaena, will be played on Fri., Oct. 18 at Julian R. Yates Field.
Division I seeding will be finalized when Waiakea visits Kealakehe Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Hilo 7 0 0 14 – 21
Konawaena 10 0 0 6 – 16
1st (3:42) – HILO: Tristan Spokes 3 yd TD run (Rayce Takayesu XPT good)
1st (2:12) – KONA: John Replogle 40 yd FG
4th (9:40) – KONA: Brandon Howes 24 yd TD pass to Cameron Howes (Replogle XPT blocked)
4th (5:49) – HILO: Malu Lapilio 17 yd TD run (Takayesu XPT good)
4th (2:01) – HILO: Makana Josue-Ma`a 55 yd Fumble recovery, returned for TD (Takayesu XPT good)