BIIF FB Weekend Preview: DII Contenders Meet in Kealakekua
Every week, we will dissect every Big Island football game, giving you the key players and stories before the games kick off.
No one was prepared to wait an extra week to kick off the high school football season, but preparations for Tropical Storm Iselle’s arrival took precedence, and every game around the state was either cancelled or postponed because of it.
For Honoka`a and Kamehameha-Hawai`i, the games they lost last week were the only ones they had scheduled prior to opening up Big Island Interscholastic Federation play. That means extra focus on practice and scrimmage time to be prepared for the games that count.
Six Big Island schools take to the field this weekend, and the most intriguing matchup may come out of Division II, as a pair of league champions meet at Julian Yates Field in Kealakekua.
Defending BIIF champion Konawaena enters Saturday night’s against Kaua`i, last year’s Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion and state runner-up, with an interesting quarterback battle on its hands.
Brandon Howes lit defenses up last year, passing for 2,234 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for four more scores. He’s graduated now and is enrolled at Pacific University, but his younger brother, Cameron, hopes to pick up right where Brandon left off.
Also battling for the job is Shelton Grace, who head coach Cliff Walters describes as a “long-ball” passer. Both quarterbacks are different. Howes is a bit more athletic and can improvise, while Grace can stand in the pocket and throw the football around.
Kaua`i, meanwhile, travels just 21 players for Saturday night’s showdown thanks to injuries and academics. Without its leading passer, rusher, and receiver from last season, coach Tommy John Cox is expecting youth to fill a big void. Sophomore Aaron Renaud will lead that effort at quarterback.
“He’s got a strong arm. He’s intelligent. He works hard,” Cox said. “He came in early this summer, learned the system, and I think this is gonna be a good year for him.”
Defense was a bright spot for the Red Raiders last season. Kaua`i allowed just under eight points per game during the season. It’s biggest remodeling effort will be on the defensive line, with several players transferring to Saint Louis, but Cox does have some leadership there that he hopes will help piece everything together.
“We’ve got two starters returning. Jared Astrologio is our big left tackle and he was a starter last year for us, so he’s a leader on that line and once we get these guys together and we straighten everything out, I think they’ll do a good job,” Cox explained.
Konawaena’s defense will be led by a two-way standout in Bubba Ellis-Noa, who Walters believes could be the best football player on the island.
“Bubba Ellis-Noa is a fine football player on both side of the ball,” Walters exclaimed. “He’s our running back but he’s also our linebacker and our defensive captain. He makes all the calls and he moves people around like a coach on the field. Just an excellent kid with an excellent attitude.”
Prep website ScoringLive ranks Kauai and Konawaena as the fourth and fifth best Division II teams, respectively, in the state. The game will be carried on The Big Island’s ESPN Radio (AM 850 Hilo and AM 790 Kona), and simulcast on NBC Sports Radio on AM 1500 in Honolulu.
Kealakehe vs. Maui at War Memorial Stadium – Friday at 7:00 p.m. (ESPNMaui.com streaming)
Kealakehe will turn to a familiar face to lead its football team this season. Veteran Sam Kekuaokalani, who has been an assistant under several different coaching staffs, takes over after veteran coach Sam Papalii was not retained following last season.
Kekuaokalani has been in this position before. When former head coach Gary Clarke left the program after the 2010 season, Kekuaokalani stepped in to coach the following year on an interim basis. The interim tag isn’t on him this time around, but the expectations of returning to the top in Division I remain.
Maui returns leading rusher Onosai Emelio, who rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns last season. As a team, the Sabers averaged 208 yards on the ground per contest.
Maui was 6-4 last season and 4-4 in Maui Interscholastic League play.
St. Francis at Kea`au – Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
The Saints were supposed to host Konawaena last week, but Tropical Storm Iselle changed those plans. This week, former NFL defensive tackle Mike Ulufale brings his Saints to Kea`au as both teams look to improve on a tough 2013 season.
The Sainta went 1-8 last season, dropping their last seven games of the season. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division II representative allowed 38 points and over 314 yards per contest. They gave up over 40 points in five of their eight losses.
Offensively, the team returns without its leading passer and rusher, Ranan Mamiya. Blaze Umiamaka and Kawika Ulufale will battle for reps at the quarterback position. Senior Kelii Macalino is the leading returning target at receiver. He finished second on the team last year with 20 catches and 238 receiving yards.
Kea`au coach Kalei Young, the reigning BIIF Division I Coach of the Year, returns for his first full season overseeing the program. He coached the final four games of the season after Michael Nonies resigned during the season.
Young has brought in Reid Hakoba to serve as his defensive coordinator with the hopes of improving an already gritty unit. “He came from a background at Castle High School and played at a really high level,” Young said. “What we’ve been doing over the last several years is really similar with his philosophies, which made me really comfortable bringing him in.
Hilo at Waiakea – Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Hilo’s only tune up for the regular season will come against its cross-town rival Saturday afternoon.
The Vikings, who finally conquered “Mount Kealakehe” last year to win a league title, will bring back its most talented skill position player in senior running back Tristin Spikes, who was named co-BIIF Offensive Player of the Year last season. Sione Atuekaho will take all of the snaps this season.
Waiakea, under second-year coach Moku Pita, continues to build the program up, but will do it this year without dynamic rusher Devin Preston, who graduated last year. A host of backs will get an opportunity to carry the rock.
“This year, for some reason, we’ve got six running backs,” Pita said. “They all have been working hard. The leader so far is Pono Auwae, and the next guy behind him is Joe Alvarez.”
Waiakea had three preseason games lined up, but lost last week’s home game against Moanalua because of the storm.
Hawai`i Preparatory Academy at Waimea – Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
These teams met last year in a 13-8 nail biter on the HPA campus. The game was scoreless at halftime before Ka Makani’s offense scored all of its points in the third quarter and held off the Menehunes from completing a fourth quarter comeback.
From that game on, Waimea’s offense hit a long dry spell, scoring just 20 points in its next seven games. They were shut out five times during that stretch.
Hawai`i Prep lost all three of its games last season by eight points or less, which was the reason why they were sitting at home in November instead of playing postseason football. Two of their losses were against Konawaena, including a one-point loss which was decided by a last second field goal. It’s other loss was an eight point defeat at home to Hilo to open the regular season.
In order for HPA to change its fortunes this year, senior quarterback Koa Ellis will need to continue his growth from last year.
“He evolved and grew into somebody that could make great decisions on the field and could call audibles at the line,” said coach Jordan Hayslip. ” On top of the x’s-and-o’s, he really is a leader. Guys will follow him. He’s got that charisma. He’s got that way about him that guys wanna follow.”
Hayslip’s toughest task is trying to get a cast of backs to fill the shoes of Bobby Lum, who ran for over 1,500 yards last year in his senior season. “We have Alex Brost who’s returning. He’s a hard little runner, not Bobby Lum-size, but he’s got some quickness instead,” said Hayslip. “Caleb Kagawa is coming back as a senior fullback, and then we’ve got another senior running back, Kanoa Chobany, who’s gonna get some carries as well.”