Konawaena’s football team has a large margin for error. Regardless, Wildcats coach Cliff Walters doesn’t want a calculator or luck to decide his football team’s playoff fate today.
Konawaena will play at Kamehameha-Hawaii in a game that will decide the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II champion and the league’s lone Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state playoff berth.
The contest will follow a 5 p.m. JV game between the schools, and the Wildcats (8-1 BIIF Division II, 8-4 overall) can lose by as many as 12 points and still earn the BIIF’s overall title.
Walters wants his team to earn a state playoff berth in a more simple and convincing manner: by scoring more points than its opponent.
“We have to go in understanding that we have to win the game,’’ Walters said. “You go in for a win. We don’t go in with a cushion to win the game.
“I’m coaching for a win, and I hope the players are playing for a win.”
Konawaena won the league’s first-half crown with a 16-3 home victory – a 13-point margin – over Kamehameha on Sept. 29. The Warriors (7-2, 10-2) can still win the second-half title and the league’s overall title with a 14-point win.
When the league’s first- and second-half champions are different, point differential in the games contested by the teams during the season determines the overall champion.
“If we win by 14, that’s great,’’ Kamehameha coach Dan Lyons said. “We’ll see what happens. I certainly feel it’s within the realm of possibility.”
That’s because Lyons thought the Warriors, behind a stout defense, put themselves in position to beat the Wildcats in the last meeting between the teams.
Trailing 9-3, Kamehameha had the football at midfield when Konawaena defensive tackle Kawika Kealoha sacked quarterback Brandon Howes and forced a fumble that Wildcats linebacker Bubba Ellis-Noa recovered and returned 37 yards for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 12 seconds remaining.
“We felt we had an opportunity to win,’’ Lyons said. “Kona made a play, and we didn’t.”
Kamehameha clamped down on Konawaena’s prolific offense in the game, with J.J. Fujimoto, Ikaika Villanueva and Timmy Burke leading a pass rush that consistently applied pressure on junior quarterback Lii Karratti.
The Warriors limited the Wildcats to 97 yards of offense, also holding senior running back John Kamoku to 58 rushing yards on 15 carries.
For the season, Kamoku has carried the ball 86 times for 843 yards – an average of 9.8 yards per rush – and 20 touchdowns.
“We were really happy with our defensive backs (and their) coverage of receivers,’’ Lyons said. “We were happy with the pressure we put on the quarterback.
“For the most part, defensively, we did a great job against a really good offense.”
This season, Karratti has thrown for 2,561 yards with 40 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His top two targets, Domonic Morris (13 touchdown receptions) and Kenan Gaspar (10 TDs), have 726 and 640 receiving yards, respectively.
However, Walters said Kamehameha slowed down the Wildcats’ passing game with a defensive scheme featuring cover-2 principles that took away the deep pass.
As a result, Karratti completed just 3 of 16 passes for 33 yards.
“We tried to go to our zone pass offense and get the big play, and it didn’t work,’’ Walters said.
However, the Konawaena coach said the Wildcats performed better while facing a similar defense last Friday, when Konawaena beat HPA 56-49 at home.
Before the game, the Wildcats’ defense had allowed only two touchdowns all season. Walters expressed displeasure with his team’s tackling, saying defenders did not wrap up properly while trying to bring down running back Bobby Lum.
The HPA junior ran for 221 yards on 31 carries.
“They’re not big boys, but they’re pit bulls,’’ Walters said of his defenders. “We played like little puppies instead of pit bulls (against HPA), and we have to change that.
“I didn’t have pit bulls last week. I’ve had them every other week.”
The Wildcats didn’t have too many problems stopping the run against the Warriors.
Senior Shaun Kagawa, one of the state’s best all-around athletes, had some success as a runner out of the wildcat formation against Konawaena, running for 45 yards on five carries in the first half. But Konawaena bottled up the senior in the second half, limiting him to minus-5 yards on three carries and tackling him in the end zone for a safety.
For the season, Kagawa has rushed for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, junior Ina Teofilo, a rugged 210-pound running back, has 755 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 144 carries.
The Wildcats limited him to 46 yards on 15 carries, but Walters said his team’s main concerns remain the same: Kagawa and Teofilo.
Walters said the Warriors have utilized Kagawa more as a wideout recently, spreading out opposing defenses on the field. In a 19-10 loss at HPA on Oct. 20, the senior had five receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.
“I have to split my resources between the two, and that’s going to be tough,’’ Walters said. “It’s about hitting them as hard as I can with as many guys as I can.”
Honokaa at Hawaii Prep, 3 p.m. Saturday
In the last meeting between the teams, the Dragons beat Ka Makani 55-7 at home on Sept. 28.
Honokaa (6-3 BIIF Division II, 7-4 overall) rushed for 275 yards in the game, getting 106 yards from senior Justen Kawamoto and 87 from senior Michael Higaki. Also, sophomore quarterback Sione Epenese threw for 110 yards and three scores.
However, the teams have gone in different directions since then.
The Dragons have dropped two of their past three games while Ka Makani (5-4, 5-6) has won two of its past three contests.
Lum, who has rushed for 923 yards and nine touchdowns, has led an efficient HPA ground game. But sophomore Koa Ellis has developed into a formidable dual-threat quarterback, having thrown for 499 yards and 10 touchdowns this season while rushing for 53 yards and a score against Konawaena last week.
Hilo at Kealakehe, 7 p.m. Saturday
Postponed last Saturday because of a tsunami generated from a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Canada, the BIIF Division I final between the teams will resume with the Waveriders (7-0 BIIF Division I, 9-1 overall) holding a 20-14 lead over the Vikings (5-2, 7-2) with 58.8 seconds remaining in the first half.
The winner receives the league’s lone berth in the HHSAA Division I state playoffs, which begin Nov. 9 with first-round games at the higher seeds.
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