Deep Backfield Carrying ’Riders
Growing pains. Adjustment periods. Bumps in the road.
They often occur in the face of sudden changes, but a revolving door in the backfield hasn’t slowed Kealakehe’s offense in the least bit.
The Waveriders will take a 4-0 Big Island Interscholastic Federation record to Wong Stadium on Saturday, when they take on Hilo.
The contest follows a 4 p.m. junior varsity contest between the schools, and Kealakehe can clinch home-field advantage throughout the BIIF Division I playoffs with a victory.
The last time the teams met, senior slotback Lennox Jones led Kealakehe (6-1 overall) with 152 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But Jones suffered a deep thigh bruise in the contest, limiting his playing time in the past two weeks.
No problem for Kealakehe.
The following week, Giuseppi Zapataoliva, used almost exclusively as a wideout for the past two seasons, ran for 197 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in a 34-22 win at Keaau. Then the Waveriders leaned on 348-pound fullback David Fangupo, who rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in last Saturday’s 26-12 win over Waiakea.
Kainoa Kipapa, who sat out the Waveriders’ win over the Vikings with an ankle injury, added 110 rushing yards and two scores, giving the Waveriders five different ball-carriers who have run for 100 yards or more in a single game this season. Jones, who leads the team in rushing (531 yards) and receiving (331 yards), and quarterback Jordan Cristobal (342 rushing yards, 583 passing yards) are the others.
In the midst of all the changes, the Waveriders’ beefy starting offensive line at the beginning of the season — Feke Kioa, Tui Eli, Prince Samoa, Siosaia Kalavi and Giovanni Chanes-Rodriguez — has remained the same, giving the team solid blocking up front. Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii can say the same about other skill position players who don’t get the ball.
“Our slots have to block, and our wide receivers have to block,’’ Papalii said. “It’s a combination of all the guys.’’
The result: 350 total rushing yards in each of the team’s first four league games.
The Waveriders will face a Vikings (3-1, 4-2) team that proved just as adept throwing the ball.
Junior quarterback Drew Kell threw for 405 yards in the last meeting between the teams, hooking up with sophomore Donovan Kelley nine times for 228 yards and two scores.
Papalii said the Waveriders have done a better job of defending deep passes since then, and he hopes the improvement continues Saturday.
Kealakehe lost three of its starting defensive backs — cornerback Aisea Lelenoa (shoulder), free safety Cyruss Cho (broken clavicle) and strong safety Keoni Yates (knee) — to season-ending injuries. The other DB, Zapataoliva, has picked off five passes this season, while Keoni Schweitzer (cornerback), Kipapa (strong safety) and Vincent Paogofie (free safety) are settling into new positions.
“(Kell is) a pinpoint passer, and he’s a good athlete,’’ Papalii said. “We know what he can do, and he’s got good receivers. Our defense — we’re going to have to pressure him.
“We want to make them earn their scores, not throw over the top like they did in the last game. That’s our goal: if you’re going to score, you’re not going to give up the big bomb.’’
The Waveriders gave up two bombs to the Vikings in the last meeting between the teams, with Kelley beating Kealakehe’s secondary for 79- and 84-yard touchdown on go routes down the sideline.
In four games this season, Kell has completed 59 of 100 passes for 738 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
Kelley has caught 14 passes for 293 yards in the Vikings’ past three games, but Kell has effectively spread the ball around to other receivers, with wideouts Makalii Kahumoku-Jose and Jacob Genegabus, and running backs Tristan Spikes and Tyler Mahoe all making big contributions in the passing game.
Kell has connected with at least five different receivers in each of the Vikings’ past three games.
“He’s hypercompetitive,’’ Hilo coach Dave Baldwin said. “His goal on every play is perfection, and he wants that goal to be the same with everyone he plays with.”
Defensively, Hilo has defended the run better since giving up 434 yards to the Waveriders.
Leaning on speed and quickness from defensive ends Isi Holani and Jon Salzman, and linebackers T’Shaquille Pea and Sione Holika, the Vikings limited explosive Waiakea running back Devin Preston to 16 rushing yards two weeks ago in a 21-14 win. In that contest, Hilo stuffed Waiakea on two fourth-and-goal running plays in the final minute.
Last Friday, the Vikings held Keaau to minus-1 yards of total offense in a 24-6 victory.
“We see a pattern of improvement,’’ Baldwin said.
But the Hilo coach maintains the Vikings’ contest against the Waveriders serves as a “measuring stick” for the team.
Kealakehe enters the contest with a 15-game winning streak against the Vikings.
“Their run game is, at the very least, formidable,’’ Baldwin said. “They can thoroughly dominate a game.”
Konawaena at Honokaa, 7 p.m. today
A day after learning their team forfeited three games because of an ineligible player, the Wildcats (5-1 BIIF Division II, 5-4 overall) responded by beating Kamehameha-Hawaii 16-3 at home last Saturday to win the BIIF Division II first-half regular-season title.
Konawaena totaled just 97 yards of offense against the Warriors, but a defense that forced four turnovers, recorded a safety and returned a fumble for touchdown carried the Wildcats.
Konawaena defensive end Chayne Bohol, a strong pass rusher at defensive end, sprained his left knee in the contest and will not play against the Dragons, Wildcats coach Cliff Walters said.
Sophomore Makoa Chapa will step in for the senior on defense, and senior Shannon Hardy will spell Bohol on the offensive line.
Konawaena’s defense faces the task of slowing down a Honokaa offense that came alive last Friday in a 55-7 home win over Hawaii Prep after making a handful of lineup changes.
The Dragons (5-1, 6-2) moved Sione Epenesa from fullback to quarterback, and the sophomore responded by completing 3 of 5 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.
Epenesa still proved a threat in the running game, rushing for 58 yards behind a line in which senior Triton Reich moved from left tackle to center.
“They are way tougher than what they were before,’’ Walters said. “They’re a different team with the change at quarterback.”
Meanwhile, Michael Higaki took over Epenesa’s role in the offense and flourished, running for 87 yards and two touchdowns and catching a touchdown pass.
Senior running back Justen Kawamoto, the team’s leading rusher, gained 106 yards and a touchdown against Ka Makani.
“We know, when you go to Honokaa, you have a street fight,’’ Walters said.
The Dragons must contend with a potent passing offense that didn’t fare well last week, generating just 33 yards through the air.
Junior quarterback Lii Karratti has thrown for 1,739 yards and 26 touchdowns — both are state highs — with three interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Domonic Morris, who leads the BIIF in receiving yards (524) and touchdowns (10), tweaked a hamstring against Kamehameha but Walters declared him ready to play today.
Senior Kenan Gaspar has caught 17 passes for 459 yards and six scores, while junior Chase Takaki has 18 receptions for 280 yards and three TDs.
John Kamoku leads the Wildcats ground game, having rushed for 509 yards and 13 touchdowns on 57 carries.
On Sept. 1, Konawaena defeated Honokaa 49-13, with Karratti throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
The Wildcats have won the past three meetings between the teams.
Keaau vs. Waiakea, 7:30 p.m. today
Both teams aim to end losing streaks today at Wong Stadium, with the Warriors (1-3 BIIF Division I, 2-5) having lost their past three games and the Cougars (0-4, 0-6) on a seven-game skid dating back to last year.
Warriors senior quarterback Kean Wong, also a threat to run, has completed 26 of 43 passes for 518 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions.
Senior wideout Dayton Kiko has caught four of Wong’s TD passes, with all of them coming on plays of 40 yards or more.
The Cougars have their own potent quarterback in Keha Wong, who threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-27 Keaau loss to Waiakea on Sept. 1. However, the senior did not play for undisclosed reasons last Friday in the team’s 24-6 loss to Keaau.
Senior Johnny Vance, a strong running back and wide receiver, and Jaren Qulhano-Makaweotook shared the quarterback duties against the Vikings, combining to complete 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards.
Ka‘u at Hawaii Prep, 2 p.m. Saturday
Ka Makani (3-3, 3-5 BIIF Division II) will try to shake off a 55-7 loss at Honokaa, while the Trojans (2-4, 2-4) try to earn their first victory on the field since Week 5 of the 2011 season.
In the last meeting between the teams, HPA beat Ka‘u 41-0 behind senior Mike Nakahara and junior Bobby Lum, who combined to rush for 173 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries.
Follow Joe Ferraro on Twitter (@jf_hawaiisports)