HONOLULU — Faced with significant disadvantages in both size and speed when matched up against Oahu Interscholastic Association White champion Kaiser, Konawaena coach Cliff Walters knew it would take a special, perhaps magical, effort to pull off the upset.
However, it was the Cougars’ wizardry on both sides of the ball that reigned supreme as fourth-seeded Kaiser wore out Konawaena 59-6 on Saturday night in the opening round of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II football tournament at rain-soaked Kaiser Stadium.
The Cougars parlayed six Wildcats turnovers into 38 points and outgained Konawaena 346 yards to 116 while holding the visiting squad to zero yards rushing and posting the highest point total in Division II tournament history.
“We played a better team tonight—they’re truly a Division I team,” said Walters after shaking each of his players’ hands as they made the long walk from the sideline back to the team busses. “There’s no doubt about that. Those guys are big enough, strong enough, fast enough to be a Division I team, and I think they’d be a very good Division I team; they’d be right in the thick of things.”
Since losing its season opener to OIA Red opponent Campbell 21-7, Kaiser has rattled off 11 straight victories—two of which came by forfeit — while outscoring opponents 489-83 during the winning streak. The Cougars advance to face top-seeded and undefeated Lahainaluna on Saturday in semifinal round on Maui.
Konawaena (10-3), the three-time defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion, could not notch the program’s first state tournament victory despite qualifying for the postseason for the third consecutive year under Walters’ direction. The Wildcats claimed momentum early as Jordan Miyahira-Young intercepted Kaiser senior quarterback Kahoalii Karratti, who transferred to play for the Cougars after spending his previous prep seasons with the Wildcats.
However, Konawaena’s own senior gunslinger, Brandon Howes, completed just one of his first nine pass attempts, including an errant throw that was picked off and returned 60 yards by Cougar defensive back Melvin Kahunanui for a touchdown. The pick-6 was sandwiched by a pair of touchdown runs by Kaiser’s thunder-and-lighting backfield of Thomas Buntenbah-Leong and Fitou Fisiiahi that put the home team up 21-0 with 4:21 to play in the first quarter.
“Their run took off on us. We made some bad tackles—you’re not going to be able to grab those two boys’ jerseys,” said Walters of Buntenbah-Leong (65 yards rushing) and Fisiiahi (42 yards rushing and 24 yards receiving), who now have 16 rushing scores apiece this season. “Those two running backs, I’m telling you, it was lightning and thunder out there all night. Even with poor footing, they’re still a great duo.”
Following another Howes interception, Kaiser (11-1) drove 71 yards and made the Wildcats pay for the mistake as Karratti connected with Fisiiahi on a 5-yard pass to extend the advantage to 28-0 on the first play of the second quarter. Cougar linebacker Parker Higgins then intercepted Howes on Konawaena’s ensuing drive, and Kaiser turned the miscue into three more points as Matt Sai booted a 37-yard field goal to increase the blue-and-yellow clad squad’s lead to 31-0.
The Wildcats answered with 7:35 remaining in the first half as Dishon Cho took a fly-sweep handoff and sprinted around the right end 7 yards for a touchdown, and narrowed Kaiser’s advantage to 31-6 following a missed extra point attempt. The scoring drive was the first and only positive string of plays for Konawaena’s offensive unit in the game following three 3-and-outs, three interceptions and a lost fumble to begin the contest.
“We didn’t play our best game, and that’s attributed to us playing a great team. But, we also have played much better than that, even against great teams,” Walters said. “I don’t know what happened tonight. We got a little down on ourselves, and we got tired. From the first half on, we had cramps and we had (unusual) things happening. Maybe it’s the trip, perhaps we don’t travel well.”
Karratti connected with Higgins, who also plays tight end and led the squad with five receptions for 77 yards, on a 13-yard passing score with 32 seconds remaining in the half to give Kaiser a 38-6 lead, which stood at intermission. The Cougars’ ground game made the difference as Kaiser outrushed Konawaena 150 yards to minus-2 in the first half.
“Physically, we couldn’t handle them. We had freshmen and sophomores up front, and they had men coming at us,” Walters said when recounting Kaiser’s relenting blitz-heavy defense.
Karratti was only called upon to throw 15 passes, completing 10 of them for two scores. Howes, whose white No. 8 jersey was muddied from being driven into the hard turf all evening, managed just 11 completions on 39 attempts while throwing four interceptions.
“I really believe (Kaiser is) a better team than Lahainaluna based on what I’ve seen, and I think Lahainaluna will rally have their hands full,” said Walters, who’s won 98 percent of his games in 36 years as a prep skipper. They’ll have their hands full for sure, and it will be an interesting game to watch.”
Konawaena 0 6 0 0 —6
Kaiser 21 17 14 7— 59
Kaiser — Thomas Buntenbah-Leong 55 run (Matt Sai kick), 8:00
Kaiser — Melvin Kahunanui 60 interception return (Sai kick), 6:59
Kaiser — Fitou Fisiiahi 3 run (Sai kick), 4:21
Kaiser — Fisiiahi 5 pass from Lii Karratti (Sai kick), 11:55
Kaiser — FG Sai 37, 9:38
Kona — Dishon Cho 7 run (John Replogle kick), 7:35
Kaiser —Parker Higgins 13 pass from Karratti (Sai kick), 0:32
Kaiser — Matt Haili 7 pass from Justin Ikei (Sai kick), 3:08
Kaiser — Cannan Saole 26 run (Sai kick), 4:02
Kaiser — Iakona Makaneole 20 pass from Kahi Neves (Sai kick), 11:53