Kamehameha (1-0 BIIF Division II, 1-0 overall) defeated Konawaena 20-6 on the road in Week 1, handing the three-time defending champion Wildcats their first loss to a Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II opponent since 2011.
Kamehameha heads back on the road Friday night, this time taking on defending BIIF Division I champion Hilo (1-0 BIIF Division I, 2-0 overall) at Wong Stadium. With a win, Kamehameha would make a statement as the team to beat on the island, regardless of division. But Hilo is not likely to let its winning streak in the BIIF end easily.
Here is what to look for in the matchup:
Hilo in focus
The Vikings are the defending D-I champions and continue to live by the old football adage that “defense wins championships.”
However, there has been some major construction on the Vikings vaunted “Wall of Seven.” Linebacker Ofa Fahiua and lineman David Pakele are the only returning starters from that group.
Despite the turnover, the players coming in look like they are athletic enough to live up to their predecessors. Last week, Hilo stymied Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s running attack and third-year starting quarterback Koa Ellis. Ellis went 16 of 25 for 156 yards, but threw two interceptions — one a 99-yard pick six by Haili Mahoe.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings deal with Kamehameha quarterback Micah Kanehailua, who has the ability to get the ball down field and the experience to take advantage of time in the pocket.
On offense, six starters are back and dual-threat QB Sione Atuekaho and BIIF co-offensive player of the year Tristin Spikes lead the charge. Out wide, the Vikings have receivers with size who have the ability to make plays if Kamehameha stacks the box.
Kacey Hall and Sawyer Salfen are the core of the offensive line, and they will be instrumental in slowing down a Kamehameha defense that had five sacks and three interceptions a week ago against Konawaena. Hilo has a bunch of playmakers on offense who are capable of breaking open a game, but the offensive line needs to give the plays time to develop.
Kamehameha in focus
The Warriors are coming off a great win against defending three-time Division II champion Konawaena, and coach Dan Lyons has the task of readying the Warriors to take the next step and hopefully see a big improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. Kamehameha has to look over the tape, review and correct whatever mistakes were made and understand the good plays made in all phases of the game.
Offensively, the execution was not always sharp in muddy Kealakekua last week, but the Warriors found a way to score. Techniques and fundamentals have to be honed and corrections made, but the Warriors’ Kanehailua-led offense will have to be at its best with precise execution in the pass game and the ability to establish a running game early. That will be contingent on an offensive line led by returning All-BIIF selection Kelii Montibon and returning starters Joyden Madriaga and Pono Davis.
On defense, Kamehameha must continue its stellar play exhibited in the win over Konawaena and use the experience and confidence gained from that road win against the defending champions.
The Warrior defense must continue to stop the run first, which it did with much success against Konawaena. The Warriors bottled up returning All-BIIF running back Bubba Ellis-Noa, allowing just 26 yards on a dozen carries.
Like Ellis-Noa, the Hilo running backs present a big challenge. The Warriors have to be disciplined to contain the double or triple option the Vikings will run. Hilo’s passing threats are also very real.
Hilo keys to victory
Defensively, the Vikings need to limit Kanehailua and his receivers to short gains and not let any big plays happen. Against Konawaena, a 65-yard scramble down the sideline by Kanehailua shifted the tide of the game.
The front seven need to make Kanehailua uncomfortable in the pocket. That was part of the reason he was only 7 of 25 for 89 yards against the Wildcats.
Hilo will have to execute the running game and eliminate turnovers on handoffs. If the Vikings turn the ball over, it will negate points they preyed on against HPA.
The Vikings diverse offense should be able to keep Kamehameha off balance with a mix of runs and passes, and cannot get too committed to one. If Kamehameha crowds the box trying to stop Spikes, Atuekaho can take advantage. The Hilo QB was just 6 of 14 for 97 yards against HPA, but three of those completions went for touchdowns. Atuekaho ran in another score.
Kamehameha keys to victory
Offensively, the experienced offensive line must control the inexperience on the Vikings front seven to keep Kanehailua upright in the pocket.
It will be another chance for Kanehailua and his receivers to show they are on the same page. The Warriors are used to playing on speedy turf, but should expect relatively the same conditions at Wong Stadium. If conditions permit, receivers need to run crisp routes and Kanehailua has to deliver quick passes, which were not a factor against Konawaena.
Establishing a run game will also be key. Kaeo Batacan showed he could be a workhorse back for Kamehameha, carrying the ball 22 times for 72 yards in Week 1.
On defense, the Warriors must be disciplined against the spread option. The diverse run game can be extended from the option to fly sweeps, counters and zones. Having success up front starts with winning the line of scrimmage. And while you want to stop the run, the secondary has to be responsible, because Hilo has the athletes to break off big gains.
QB Atuekaho’s legs
The Vikings have not been tested so far this season, outscoring opponents 94-27 in two games. The Warriors should present more of a test of the Vikings and the weight of that challenge will be placed on Atuekaho.
In both of Hilo’s wins this season Atuekaho has been efficient in the passing game, and more than capable on the ground, taking opportunities when they come his way. The senior has accounted for nine touchdowns so far this season (six passing, three rushing). His dual-threat ability is among the best in the BIIF and could break open Friday’s contest.
If the Warriors establish a serious running game it will ease the pressure on Kanehailua. If the Vikings are forced to put a safety in the box, the passing game will open up. The Warriors three-year starter at QB has the arm and football IQ to find the mismatches and open receivers.
Kamehameha showed the beginnings of a running game last week against Konawaena, but is Batacan the guy going forward? Chase Peneku was the projected starter going into the season, but had negative yardage last week on 16 carries.
Matchup to watch
Kanehailua and receiving corps vs. Hilo secondary
Last week there was no real passing game to speak of, but Kamehameha’s receivers have a chance to rebound against Hilo. If they can execute against a tough Vikings secondary it will be the difference.
Alapaki Iaea showed playmaking ability on a 37-yard grab, but it was his only catch of the game. Kanehailua’s favorite target so far this season is Bayley Malinguis, who has four catches for 37 yards.
Hilo’s experienced secondary will be a challenge for the Warriors to overcome if they want to win this game.
Other BIIF action
Konawaena vs. Keaau
Konawaena is looking to bounce back after a rare BIIF loss at home. The Wildcats have to learn from their mistakes against Kamehameha, understand the positive and move forward.
Re-establishing the run mentality with Bubba Ellis-Noa will be key, as well as continuing the progression of Cameron Howes at quarterback. The Wildcats also need to find a way to get the weapons at wide receiver involved. Luca Vartic, who may be the fastest wide receiver in the state, was almost invisible against Kamehameha.
Keaau head coach Kalei Young is going through some growing pains dealing with the biggest roster turnover in recent memory. He is trying to find playmakers and players who can make a difference within his roster but will face an uphill battle against a determined Konawaena squad.