Undefeated. In a championship game. Expecting to win.
Kealakehe’s football team has been here before, but Waveriders coach Sam Papalii said his team can’t take Hilo lightly when the Waveriders host the Vikings at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I final.
“We can’t get overconfident,’’ Papalii said. “I won’t let them get overconfident. We know that Hilo is a team that can score quickly, and they showed they can keep us from scoring points.’’
The winner will receive the league’s lone berth in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state playoffs, which begin Nov. 12.
Kealakehe (7-0 BIIF, 9-1 overall) will shoot for its third consecutive Division I crown and seventh in the past nine seasons. Meanwhile, Hilo (5-2, 7-2) hasn’t played in a championship game since 2004, when Kealakehe beat the Vikings 41-21 for the first of their six crowns.
Hilo hasn’t won a title since 2003, when the Vikings beat an undefeated Kealakehe team in the final.
When reached by phone on Tuesday, Hilo coach Dave Baldwin said many of his players may not even know when the Vikings last won a football championship.
“Maybe that’s a reminder for the bus ride over,’’ Baldwin said of Hilo’s last title.
Papalii sees the Vikings as capable of pulling off a victory, saying his team was “fortunate” to escape with a 14-6 victory at Wong Stadium on Oct. 6.
In that contest, Kealakehe had six fumbles, losing five of them. As a result, the Waveriders finished well under their season average of 35.7 points per game in the regular season.
“We felt we left a lot of points on the field,’’ Papalii said.
Kealakehe trailed 6-0 at halftime but persevered, scoring two third-quarter touchdowns.
The Vikings, getting strong pursuit from linebackers Sione Holika and T’Shaquille Pea and defensive end Isi Holani, have performed well defensively in their past four games, allowing 13.5 points per game.
“The encouraging part is we reduced that number,’’ Baldwin said of the number of points the Vikings allowed to the Waveriders. “The discouraging part is that we lost. If the progression continues, we’ll be smiling at the end of (today’s) game.’’
Senior fullback David Fangupo, who capped the scoring in that contest with a 1-yard touchdown run, sat out last Saturday’s 31-8 BIIF semifinal win over Keaau with a staph infection.
But Papalii said the 348-pound fullback, who has rushed for 469 yards on 60 carries, will play.
Fangupo has scored three of his seven rushing touchdowns against the Vikings, and as a team, Kealakehe has run the ball more than it did earlier in the season.
The Waveriders have averaged 6.4 pass attempts in their past six games after averaging 17 in their previous three.
Senior Jordan Cristobal has completed 61 of 97 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns with just five interceptions, but he has also rushed for 472 yards and five scores.
Senior slotback Lennox Jones leads the team with 821 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, but he has also caught 29 passes for 473 yards and four scores.
Defensively, the linebacking corps of seniors Kyler O’Halloran, Manase Hungalu and Loto Mareko lead a unit that has allowed just 6.5 points per game in its past four contests.
The Waveriders must contend with junior quarterback Drew Kell, who has completed 102 of 178 passes for 1,144 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Kell threw for 405 yards in a 43-29 loss at Kealakehe on Sept. 15, finding sophomore Donovan Kelley for 79- and 84-yard touchdown passes.
Kelley, like Kealakehe’s Jones, gives the Vikings an explosive threat at running back and wide receiver.
Since that game, Papalii has stressed eliminating big plays with his team, and he has continued to do so this week.
“We’ve been there and done that,’’ Papalii said of playing in championship games. “We have to execute, and hopefully good things will happen.
“We hope our experience in big games will help, but this is a new year. They have an outstanding quarterback, and they can strike quick. They’re a well-coached team, and we have to come out with our very best.”
Kealakehe hasn’t lost to Hilo since 2004, carrying a 16-game winning streak against the Vikings into Saturday’s game.
When discussing the atmosphere of a championship game, Baldwin has tried to instill a “carpe diem” type of attitude in his team.
“There’s no pressure on us,’’ Baldwin said of a team that went winless last season. “Nobody took us to be in this game (at the beginning of the season). We’re looking to have fun.
“We’ve already had a special season. The only thing that will change is if our season went from special to amazing. If we’re having fun, that means we’re taking care of business in that championship game.”
Hawaii Prep at Konawaena, 7 p.m. today
Behind a stingy defense that recorded five sacks and five interceptions, Ka Makani (5-3 BIIF Division II, 5-5 overall) rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit to beat Kamehameha-Hawaii 19-10 at home.
HPA limited the Warriors’ formidable rushing attack to 57 yards on 37 carries — an average of 1.5 yards per rush — and 163 yards of total offense.
Offensively, junior Bobby Lum, who ran for 77 yards against Kamehameha, has rushed for 693 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries this season. Also, sophomore quarterback Koa Ellis, who picked off two passes against the Warriors, has completed 44 of 76 passes for 376 yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, Nicolas Palleschi — he had 1 ½ sacks against the Warriors — and Kaimi Stevens lead Ka Makani defensively with 21 ½ tackles each. Stevens and Eigoro Akai (20 ½ tackles) have three sacks apiece this season.
HPA faces the daunting task of slowing down Konawaena (7-1, 7-4), which has averaged 53.6 points per game.
On Oct. 12, the Wildcats rested senior wideout Domonic Morris — he has caught 26 passes for 578 yards and 11 touchdowns — yet still beat Ka‘u 91-8.
Junior quarterback Lii Karratti has completed 78 of 131 passes for a BIIF-high 2,217 yards and 37 touchdowns with five interceptions. One of his other favorite targets, senior Kenan Gaspar, has caught 21 passes for 576 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On the ground, running back John Kamoku has rushed for 743 yards and 17 touchdowns on 75 carries.
In the last meeting between the teams, the Wildcats defeated Ka Makani 43-0 Sept. 22 in Waimea.
Note: The contest serves as the Wildcats’ Senior Night, and the ticket gate at Konawaena’s Julian Yates Field will open at 5 p.m.
Ka’u at Kamehameha, 7 p.m. today
Not having enough players to compete, the Trojans forfeited their contest at Kamehameha.
Ka’u finished its season 2-8 in BIIF Division II play and 2-8 overall.
The Warriors improved to 7-2, 10-2.
For live updates on Friday’s Hawaii Prep-Konawaena game and Saturday’s BIIF Division I championship game between Hilo and Kealakehe, follow Joe Ferraro on Twitter (@jf_hawaiisports)