The eight fumbles left Sam Papalii perplexed, and the two-game losing streak has Kealakehe’s football coach a bit unsettled as well. But in a way, the Waveriders’ recent troubles have brought back fond memories for Papalii.
He thinks about his 2004 team, which struggled in losing three games in row but was good when it counted. That year, the Waveriders rebounded to beat Hilo for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation title, and Papalii says a similar scenario isn’t out of the question this season for a team that’s still trying to get 18 new starters to gel.
“It’s a work-in-progress. We want to win every game, of course, but we’ve had some growing pains,” he said. “But we’ve been through this. This team is talented enough, especially on the lines. We know the prize is at the end.”
About to cross the midpoint of the regular season, Kealakehe (1-3, 1-2), the three-time defending BIIF Division I champion, will try to build momentum toward the finish when it visits Honokaa (0-4, 0-3) at 7 p.m. today.
And a reinforcement has arrived with the return of Keoni Yates. Papalii says the senior could finally give the Waveriders a full complement of running backs or he might play quarterback. On defense, he’ll be looked upon to help shore up a secondary that has been susceptible to giving up big plays.
The coach feels both his offensive and defensive lines have performed like championship-caliber units so far this season, but playmakers such as Lennox Jones, the 2012 co-Offensive Player of the Year for BIIF Division I, have been sorely missed.
“I know we can run the ball, our line is probably the best in the league,” Papalii said. “We’ve got good, blue-collar runners, but nobody like a Lennox Jones. Maybe Keoni can be that guy. He’ll go where we need him the most.”
The offensive line opened up holes in the running game during a 27-6 loss against Kamehameha last Saturday at home as the Waveriders ran for more than 240 yards — Akoni Demello led the way with 92 — but eight lost fumbles and six sacks sidetracked Kealakehe.
As usual, gauntlet drills — where defenders try to poke and pry the ball away — were a common scene at practice this week.
“Ball security is something we take very seriously,” Papalii said. “We work on that every day.”
He was also expecting to have the full services of shifty slotback Riggs Kurashige. The sophomore ran for 186 yards in a 34-21 loss to Hawaii Prepatory Academy on Sept. 7, and then he had 90 more against the Warriors until his back stiffened up and he had to sit out the second half.
Defensively, Kealakehe only gave up 51 yards on the ground to Kamehameha, but for the second consecutive week its secondary was vulnerable. During their two-game losing streak, the Waveriders have allowed seven pass plays of more than 29 yards.
“Our defensive line can only do so much. If somebody throws the ball and we’re in man, we’re getting burned,” Papalii said. “Guys are coming in we think can fill those spots. Help is on the way.
“I’m constantly talking to our guys about trying to improve every week.”
Honokaa’s Epenesa OK
The Division II Dragons have been outscored 98-0 the past two weeks, but the losses at Konawaena and Hilo were far from the scariest part of their season to date.
For 20 long, agonizing minutes last Saturday night, Honokaa senior running back Sione Epenesa lay on the soft, green grass at Wong Stadium. He was injured on a hard tackle against the Vikings — to what extent nobody knew at the moment.
His parents, dad Lala, also a Honokaa assistant coach, and mom Natalie Epenesa stood next to their son, waiting 10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. The paramedics were careful in their handling of Sione, taking four minutes to load him into the van.
He’s fine now — no spinal cord injury — and diagnosed with a neck sprain and slight concussion, his dad said. He’s expected to miss two to three weeks, and will still have to pass Honokaa trainer Kahea Schuckert’s battery of tests before he steps onto the field again.
But the experience, almost a week later, is still a vivid memory for his father Lala Epenesa, who’s a 1985 Honokaa graduate and played football and baseball at the school, like his son.
“It was unreal, kind of scary,” Lala said. “The doctor said he tweaked a nerve beyond a normal sprain. He lost feeling in his arms and legs. He’s in top-shape now. They gave him an MRI, CAT scan. That night on the field, he said, ‘Dad, I’m all right. I can go ahead.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so pal.’
“The hospital was unreal. I guess they called ahead that it was a spinal and back injury. They had a whole crew waiting. I was impressed with the crew. They were unreal.”
Epenesa will be the field tonight against the Waveriders, but he won’t be in full uniform. Instead, he’ll be doing what he does best: pushing his teammates.
Hilo (4-1, 3-0) at Kamehameha (3-2, 2-1), 7:30 p.m. today
When Micah Kanehailua gets a good grip on the football and throws scoring strikes, Division II Kamehameha doesn’t necessarily need that air-ground balance to get into the win column, even when his defense is off a touch.
During his team’s two-game BIIF, the junior quarterback has put up brilliant numbers: 27 of 39 for 368 yards with seven touchdowns.
That’s a 69 percent completion rate in a 27-6 road win over Kealakehe and another 27-25 away victory over Waiakea. That’s a nice little roll after Kamehameha’s defense showed all sorts of warts in a 37-3 BIIF season-opening loss to Konawaena.
Kanehailua’s work against the Waveriders was quite impressive, considering top running back Ina Teofilo finished with only 41 yards on 17 carries. Kanehailua carried the offense, throwing three touchdown passes to Logan Uyetake and he fed Alapaki Iaea for 153 yards on eight receptions.
In a 43-0 win over Honokaa last Saturday, the Vikings put on a tackling clinic and held the Dragons to 34 yards on 24 carries. Hilo’s Isi Holani had a starring pass-rushing role with three sacks, and Faa Fuiava shared the defensive spotlight with two picks.
On the opposite side of the ball, Hilo’s offensive line blocked with leverage, and blew open holes for slippery, speedy slotback Donavan Kelley, who rushed for 107 yards on only four attempts, scoring touchdown runs of 42 and 51 yards. Don’t forget his running back Tristin Spikes. He’s dangerous, too. Spikes ran for 75 yards on nine carries and scored two touchdowns.