WAIMEA — There were no island or state championships on the line Saturday.
But the Hilo football players celebrated a big win nonetheless.
Aven Kualii ran for 117 yards, and Donovan Kelley threw two touchdown passes as the Vikings defeated host Hawaii Prep 21-18 to earn their first win since 2010.
“Since spring, we have been teaching them to focus on the program and good things will happen,” first-year Hilo coach David Baldwin said. “Somewhere along the way, they believed it.”
Hilo had to earn the Big Island Interscholastic Federation victory on Saturday, the first since Oct. 9, 2010, when the Vikings topped rival Waiakea 51-47. The Division I Vikings (1-0) had to rally from an early 12-0 deficit, and even when it appeared the game was well in hand, HPA made one final big play to trim the lead to three points. Keoni Kahikina recovered the onside kick with 27 seconds left to finally seal the win.
Hilo was on the wrong end of several big plays early, and Division II Hawaii Prep (0-1) took advantage. But in the second quarter, Hilo scored twice, including William Boyd’s 2-yard dive with 4:01 to play in the first half that put the Vikings ahead 14-12, a lead they never relinquished.
Boyd’s run was the second of three straight touchdowns the Vikings scored to turn a 12-0 deficit into a 21-12 lead. Kelley, a sophomore used to playing running back but starting at quarterback because of injuries to other quarterbacks, threw touchdown passes to Kamuela Patnaude (30 yards) and Faaaliga Fuiava (38) during that stretch.
“This wasn’t a very well played game,” Baldwin said. “Once we get to where we execute better, we can compete.”
In the first quarter, it looked like Hilo might continue its 12-game losing streak. Hawaii Prep’s Blake Hooser scooped up the opening kickoff and ran up the middle untouched for an 87-yard score to put Ka Makani ahead 6-0. His kick failed.
Hilo drove the ensuing possession to the Hawaii Prep 43 before big plays set them back. Kelley lost 14 yards on a sack, and then punter Chris Morrison could not handle the snap on fourth down, and the ball rolled for a 22-yard loss.
HPA took over at the Hilo 22, and Bobby Lum took the first play in for a touchdown and a 12-0 lead. Two times HPA touched the ball, 12 HPA points, zero Hilo tackles.
Lum finished the day with 92 yards on 19 carries.
“We were able to make some plays early, but Hilo dominated the middle,” HPA coach Jordan Hayslip said. “We have a lot of young guys, and today’s game was a good one for us to face some competition.”
Previous Hilo teams might have collapsed, but the Vikings held tough, even as things seemed to get worse. After the teams swapped possessions, Hilo got a big punt return from Tyler Mahoe to the HPA 15. On the first play, though, the shotgun snap went sailing over Kelley’s head. He recovered the ball, then fumbled again, and the ball rolled all the way to the Hilo 45 where Ka Makani recovered.
In all, Hilo lost 88 yards of offense because of issues with midrange or long snaps.
Perhaps the key moment of the game came on the ensuing possession when Kwaylen Longakit intercepted Lii Purdy’s pass to keep HPA from adding to its lead. Purdy struggled, going 1-for-6 for 81 yards and two interceptions. His lone completion was an 81-yard touchdown to Kellen Gillins with 34 seconds remaining.
The Vikings wound up scoring after picking off Purdy, covering 52 yards in nine plays. With Kualii consistently getting 4 to 5 yards each carry, the Vikings set up a play-action pass, and Kelley found Patnaude over the right side for a 30-yard score.
The same strategy worked for Hilo’s final score, the 38-yard strike to Fuiava early in the third quarter. That score capped a 60-yard, five-play drive, and Kelley found Fuiava over the middle for the game-clincher.
But when you have lost 12 games in a row, nothing comes easily. Even as players were starting to count down the win, Hawaii Prep finally connected on a deep pass, and the secure nine-point lead was suddenly trimmed to three.
But after Kahikina’s recovery, Kelley was able to take one snap and kneel on the ball in the victory formation to seal the win.
“You have to give credit to HPA and respect their program,” Baldwin said. “You have to respect the way they fought until the final play.”
Hayslip echoed those sentiments.
“I’m proud of our guys for how they fought all the way,” he said.
Hilo 0 14 7 0 — 21
HPA 12 0 0 6 — 18
HPA — Blake Hooser 87 kickoff return (Hooser kick failed), 11:39
HPA — Bobby Lum 22 run (Kellen Gillins run failed), 8:45
Hilo — Kamuela Patnaude 30 pass from Donovan Kelley (Kelley run), 11:08
Hilo — William Boyd 2 run (run failed), 4:01
Hilo — Faaaliga Fuiava 38 pass from Kelley (Keola Miller kick), 10:29
HPA — Gillins 81 pass from Lii Purdy (Purdy pass failed), :34
c Waimea 21, Honokaa 14: No details were reported for this game in Honokaa.