By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hilo is one win away from completing a worst-to-first turnaround, but that wasn’t on coach Dave Baldwin’s mind late on Friday night, when the roaring sound of triumph pulled from a rabbit’s hat surrounded him.
It all looked so shaky for the Vikings, who couldn’t figure out a way to put a lid on Waiakea quarterback Kean Wong and his crafty wide receiver Dayton Kiko, in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I football semifinals at Wong Stadium.
Still, Hilo will be in the BIIF championship on Saturday, after pulling away from the Warriors 21-20. The Vikings (5-2 BIIF, 7-2 overall) last won the league title in 2003.
In his dramatic rally, Wong either had a fraction of time or scrambled to find a window, and fired three touchdown passes to Kiko, all in the second half. The last score, a 24-yard TD strike, pushed the Warriors ahead, 20-14 with 4:12 left.
That was more than enough time for Hilo quarterback Drew Kell to lead a game-winning 77-yard march. But it wasn’t easy. Waiakea’s defense pretty much shut down the run in second half, holding the Viks to 51 yards on 17 carries; they had 104 yards on 16 attempts in the first half.
But when the Vikings needed a key first down on third-and-10 from their own 23, they went to the run, after two pass incompletions. Kell picked up 11 yards on the ground. Three plays later, he threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Faoa Kelley.
“That was the ugliest win I’ve ever been a part as a coach,” Hilo first-year coach Baldwin said. “We wanted to take a shot at that moment. It was a smart shot to a proven producer and competitor. Kelley came up big.
“We battled through the game, but it wasn’t pretty or picture-perfect. We’re still not there. We’re still searching to hit our stride. We’re looking to improve on our execution and fundamentals.”
Kelley finished with big numbers. He had three catches for 105 yards, and rushed for 86 yards on five carries, including a 63-yard burst down the sidelines in the second quarter. That set up Hilo’s first touchdown, a Makana Josue-Ma‘a four-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
That series also highlighted how Hilo countered a defense focused on stopping the pass. Waiakea’s strategy was to rush three or four and drop the rest in coverage. The tradeoff in pass coverage is there’s less run support.
Kelley, a 5-foot-7 sophomore with more speed than size, got to the edge, found a gap before the running lanes closed and ripped it down the sideline. Tristan Spikes, Hilo’s other standout sophomore running back, added 67 yards on 14 carries.
“The difference between the last game and this game is they didn’t blitz on first down,” Kell said. “Their middle linebacker was dropping back and staying back. We just had to stick to our game plan and get in open areas. We had to find the open area and get the ball off quick.”
Kell completed 11 of 24 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He rushed for six yards on nine attempts, losing 25 yards by going backward to run out the clock.
Waiakea’s defense mostly held him in check, and produced a pair of three-and-out possessions in the third quarter. After each stop, Wong threw a TD pass to Kiko. The first was a 14-yard strike following Wong’s 70-yard run. The second was a beauty, a 22-yard dart on a busted play that had Wong scrambling to his right and firing on the run.
“We didn’t always track him,” Baldwin said of Kiko. “He played his heart out. I’m very, very impressed with his heart and how he played. I can’t say enough about the Waiakea players and the way they fought to the end.”
Wong was 12 of 32 for 172 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 115 yards on 16 attempts. Kiko caught seven balls for 136 yards.
“We played our hearts out,” Kiko said. “I won’t forget this game. We started slow but in the second half we gave it our all. We felt like we had them, but we didn’t finish. But we tried.”
Wong credited his senior teammate for finding a way to get open, especially when his pocket collapsed. Josue-Ma‘a had a pair of sacks and Mike Williams and Isi Holani each added a sack.
“Hilo did a good job of keeping me in the pocket in the first half,” Wong said. “In the second half, they were going for passes and that’s when I started scrambling. Kiko works hard to get open when I’m scrambling. I felt like we had a shot to win. Everybody picked up their play and started clicking.”
Waiakea coach Fred Lau appropriately summed up the close battle between the crosstown rivals, a three-game series that Hilo swept, winning 38-21 and 21-14 earlier.
“We did the best we could,” he said. “Somebody had to lose. I’m sorry it was us.”
Over on the other side, Baldwin still saw room for improvement.
“We’re searching for an ‘A’ game in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams),” he said. “The good news is we have one more week to try.”