Waiakea coach Fred Lau heard the chatter regarding the meaning of the regular season.
Every Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I team makes the playoffs, Lau heard team supporters tell his players. Only the playoff games really matter.
Lau believes his players bought into the talk, mainly because he has seen more enthusiasm in the practices leading up to today’s 7 p.m. BIIF semifinal between No. 2 seed Hilo (4-2 BIIF Division I, 6-2 overall) and No. 3 seed Waiakea (2-4, 3-6) at Wong Stadium.
“We probably had our best practices this week,’’ Lau said. “They look real sharp. They have a bounce to their step.”
The winner of today’s game will either host No. 4 seed Keaau or travel to play No. 1 seed Kealakehe in a BIIF Division I championship game scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 27.
The Vikings won both regular-season matchups between the teams, escaping with a 21-14 victory thanks in large part to a stellar goal-line stand on Sept. 21 before beating the Warriors 38-21 last Friday.
Junior quarterback Drew Kell played efficiently in the two games, completing 32 of 58 passes for 433 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, defensive lineman Isi Holani and linebackers Sione Holika and T’Shaquille Pea head a defense that has kept the Warriors’ ground game under wraps.
However, Hilo coach Dave Baldwin isn’t taking too much stock in the victories, saying his team hasn’t excelled in all of the game’s three phases — offense, defense and special teams — in any of the Vikings’ eight games this season.
For Baldwin, excelling means earning a letter grade of A, and the Hilo coach said the Vikings haven’t gotten straight As all season.
“I think we’ve shown some improvement in all three phases of our game,’’ Baldwin said. “But we haven’t had that game where all three phases have executed at a high level.”
Last Friday, the Vikings beat a Warriors team that played without dual-threat quarterback Kean Wong, a senior who attended the Arizona Fall Senior Classic, a high-level baseball showcase that attracts hundreds of college and professional scouts.
Lau said Wong, who has passed for 518 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 388 yards and three TDs, will play today.
The Waiakea coach said senior running back Devin Preston hasn’t played at 100 percent since suffering a knee injury in a 49-28 loss to Kealakehe on Sept. 8.
The Vikings limited Preston to 13 yards in the first meeting between the teams and 69 yards last Friday.
Lau said seniors Lono Leasure-Lucas, also a threat in the passing game, and Ioane Leslie will get more carries to take the pressure off Preston.
In the passing game, Wong’s favorite target, Dayton Kiko, caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season last week.
Baldwin has been pleased with his defense, but said his expectations for today are “somewhat suppressed and tempered” when recalling how the Warriors methodically marched 72 yards and scored a touchdown on their opening drive last week. He compared many of the Warriors’ skill players to race cars.
“And truly, if we give them a free track, they’re going to set records,’’ Baldwin said. “Our defense needs to put up some speed bumps. If they don’t, they move very quickly.”
Lau said his team was in position to win both games against the Vikings but did not play well at the tail end of both contests.
Last Friday, the Vikings ended the contest by scoring 11 unanswered points.
“We play good for three quarters,’’ Lau said. “It’s the fourth quarter that hurts us.”
Keaau at Kealakehe, 7 p.m. Saturday
Since falling to Waiakea 14-0 in their 2009 regular season finale, the Waveriders have won their past 22 league games, including the past two BIIF Division I titles.
Meanwhile, Keaau (0-6, 0-8) hasn’t won a game since knocking off Waiakea in last year’s BIIF semifinals, which makes beating Kealakehe (6-0, 8-1) a tall order for the Cougars.
In two regular season meetings between the teams this year, Kealakehe has run the ball at will against the Cougars, piling up 392 yards in a 34-22 road victory on Sept. 22 and 336 in last week’s 53-0 home win.
Throughout the season, Kealakehe has leaned on the versatility of senior slotback Lennox Jones (695 rushing yards, 465 receiving yards) and senior quarterback Jordan Cristobal (811 passing yards, 426 rushing yards), and power running from senior fullback David Fangupo (469 rushing yards).
However, senior Giuseppi Zapataoliva served as the Waveriders’ most potent weapon against the Cougars, rushing for 197 yards in the first of the two games and 144 in the second.
Zapataoliva (three interceptions), junior defensive lineman Travis Lualemaga (4 1/2 sacks), and senior linebackers Kyler O’Halloran (81 tackles) and Manase Hungalu (53 tackles) lead a Kealakehe defense that has allowed just 18 points in its past three games.
The Waveriders face a Keaau team that has averaged just 4.7 points per game in its past three regular season games after averaging 24.6 points in its first three league contests.
Senior quarterback Keha Wong, who threw for 512 yards through the Cougars’ first three games, has not played in the team’s past three contests because of undisclosed reasons.
Kamehameha-Hawaii at Hawaii Prep, 2 p.m. Saturday
A Warriors team known for keeping the ball on the ground comes off a 40-30 win over Honokaa in which Kamehameha flourished through the air behind sophomore quarterback Micah Kanehailua.
Junior Brandon Howes had started the past two games for the Warriors (6-1, 9-1), but Kanehailua stepped in under center and torched the Dragons last Saturday, throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns.
Throughout the season, Kamehameha has leaned heavily on junior running Ina Teofilo, who has rushed for 691 yards and four touchdowns. Senior running back Shaun Kagawa has contributed 370 rushing yards and four scores.
In the last meeting between the teams, Kamehameha trailed 6-0 before scoring 24 unanswered points in a 24-6 victory. Teofilo and Kagawa both scored rushing touchdowns in the contest, running for 114 and 97 yards respectively.
Ka Makani (4-3, 4-5), coming off a bye week, also features a formidable ground game, with junior Bobby Lum having rushed for 616 yards and seven touchdowns on 81 carries.
HPA has thrown the ball more over the past two games, with Koa Ellis having completed 38 of 67 passes for 321 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Honokaa at Ka‘u, 7 p.m. today
The Dragons (5-3, 6-4) come off a 40-30 loss in which Honokaa scored two defensive touchdowns and a special teams score.
Senior running back Justen Kawamoto, who recorded his second 100-yard rushing game in the past three weeks against the Warriors, also returned an interception for a touchdown for the second time in as many weeks.
The Trojans come off a 91-8 loss at Konawaena in which Royden Esperon caught a 70-yard touchdown pass against a Wildcat defense that hadn’t allowed a touchdown since Sept. 1.
In the last meeting between the teams, Honokaa beat Ka‘u 54-0 at home on Sept. 14.