HILO — As league champion, Kealakehe is going to take an opponent’s best shot to the gut and respond to the challenge. After all, that’s what a true champion does.
And on Saturday night before about 900 fans at Wong Stadium, the physical Waveriders overcame five turnovers with two third-quarter touchdowns to defeat gutsy Hilo 14-6 in a critical Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I football game.
With the win, Kealakehe (7-1 overall, 5-0 BIIF) clinched the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Division I playoffs and will host No. 4 Keaau (0-5, 0-4) in the semifinals of the four-team event on Oct. 20. In the other semifinal, Hilo (5-2, 3-2) will battle rival Waiakea (2-5, 1-3) the same night. The Vikings and Warriors are currently battling for the No. 2 seed and will play Friday evening at Wong.
The Waveriders, under head coach Sam Papalii, trailed 6-0 at the half and rode their potent ground game to score both of their TDs in the third quarter.
The first came after a Hilo fumble when Kealakehe slotback Lennox Jones capped a four-play, 57-yard drive with a 31-yard TD run through the Vikings’ defense. The talented 5-foot-6, 150-pound senior then kicked the extra point to lift the Waveriders on top 7-6 at the 6-minute, 55-second mark.
The visitors followed with their second TD after senior Kainoa Kipapa intercepted a pass from Viking quarterback Drew Kell inside Kealakehe territory and returned it 41 yards to the Hilo 20-yard line.
The Waveriders then marched 20 yards down the field with David Fangupo, the visitors’ imposing 6-2, 348-pound fullback, bulling in from 1 yard out to make it 13-6 with 2:57 left in the quarter. Jones then added the extra point to extend the margin to 14-6.
Kealakehe, behind the steady quarterbacking of senior Jordan Cristobal, outrushed Hilo 94 yards to minus-1 yard in the 12-minute quarter and limited Kell to only one pass completion, a 3-yard catch by senior Jacob Genegabus.
Jones was sensational in the final quarter, helping keep a time-consuming 11-play drive alive that moved the football to the Hilo 21-yard line before the Vikings’ defense held and the hosts regained possession on downs. Jones caught three passes from Cristobal for 30 yards in a clutch performance during the drive that kept Kealakehe slicing time off the clock as well as keeping Kell on the sideline.
Jones had a memorable evening to spoil Hilo’s Senior Night — in what the proud Vikings will remember as a golden opportunity that slipped away. The Waverider slotback finished with 146 yards rushing on 12 attempts to go along with four catches for 40 yards.
The hard-to-tackle Fangupo added 49 yards on 11 tough carries with a TD.
Cristobal rushed for 23 yards on 14 carries, but his total would have been higher except that the Vikings sacked him six times, with 6-2, 265-pound junior Isi Tanikeni taking down the Kealakehe QB on two different occasions and being a thorn in the visitors’ attack throughout the game.
The Waveriders finished with 263 yards rushing and 68 passing for 331 total yards. That included a 182 total yards to 38 total yards advantage over Hilo in the final half.
For the game, the Dave Baldwin-coached Vikings had 49 yards on the ground and 93 in the air for 142 total yards.
Kell completed 15-of-23 passes for 93 yards and a TD. He also threw two interceptions and was held to just three completions in five pass attempts in the second half for only 9 yards. Sophomore Donavan Kelley led the Vikings in rushing with 19 yards on three attempts.
Kealakehe also finished with five turnovers, but only one came in the second half when it the Waveriders came from behind to win. Hilo had three turnovers, including two in the third quarter — a fumble and an interception — when the Waveriders scored off both miscues.
The Vikings came out fired up and grabbed a 6-0 lead with 5:37 left in the first quarter when Kell threw a 21-yard scoring pass to junior running back Aven Kualii. But the hosts missed the kick.
Hilo’s defense also contained the Waveriders’ rushing attack in the opening half and recovered four fumbles — one each by Holani, Makana Josue-Ma’a, Michael Williams and Keoni Kahikina-Simpliciano — to give the Vikings excellent field position.
But Kealakehe’s defense proved to be up for the challenge on this particular night and kept Hilo out of the end zone the rest of the way after Kell’s TD pass to Kualii.
The Vikings also had a 23-yard field goal attempt by Keola Miller with 6:14 left in the half that missed before the hosts carried their 6-0 lead into the intermission.
In the junior-varsity contest, Hilo’s talented young squad downed Kealakehe 28-0.
Kealakehe 0 0 14 0 — 14
Hilo 6 0 0 0 — 6
HILO — Aven Kualii 21 pass from Drew Kell (kick failed), 5:37
KEAL — Lennox Jones 31 run (Jones kick), 6:55
KEAL — David Fangupo 1 run (Jones kick), 2:57