By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
In the big picture, the game means little. When it’s over, the teams will pat each other on the back and go their separate ways with their championship dreams intact.
But for a few hours tonight, the renewal of a rivalry will be all that matters. Here’s all one needs to know: It’s Konawaena against Kealakehe at Waverider Stadium.
“I don’t have to tell (my players) anything,” Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii said. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a couple of years.”
For his part, Konawaena coach Cliff Walters wouldn’t mind waiting a little bit longer. He’s treating the Wildcats’ Big Island Interscholastic Federation football regular-season finale as a tuneup for the Division II playoffs.
Konawaena (6-2, 5-1 BIIF) hosts Honokaa (0-7, 0-6) on Oct. 18 in the semifinals as it seeks its third straight league title. In Division I, the three-time defending BIIF champion Waveriders (3-4, 3-3) await Waiakea (2-6, 2-4) on Oct. 19.
“My first goal is to get to the playoffs without injury,” Walters said. “We’re one of the smallest teams in the league going up against one of the biggest.
“These kids have all played together in Pop Warner. They want the same thing: no injuries.”
The Wildcats haven’t met their neighbors to the north since Walters took over in 2011, and he’s since transformed Konawaena to give West Hawaii another football powerhouse.
But which one is the best this year?
Fans should get a chance to find out.
Walters may downplay the importance of the matchup, but he’s not planning to rest any of his starters ahead of the playoffs.
“I want my best to come with a fight,” he said. “This is a dog fight, and we’re a bunch of pit bulls.”
The junior varsity game starts at 5 p.m., with the varsity contest to follow.
The battle for bragging rights will feature contrasting styles on offense.
Pass-happy Konawaena plays uptempo and spreads the field so that quarterback Brandon Howes, the BIIF leader in yards per game, can get the ball to a slew of wide receivers. Howes completed passes to eight different players in a victory earlier this season against Keaau. The Wildcats sprinkle in the run game, led by Bubba-Ellis Noa.
“We’ve got to be at our top,” Kealakehe defensive lineman Travis Lualemaga said. “We’ve got to bring our fire.”
The Waveriders prefer power football and line up in three-back sets to take advantage of their rugged offensive line. Quarterback Kaimi Wilson threw sparingly Oct. 5 in a victory against Waiakea as eight different running backs carried the ball and amassed over 300 yards.
The Waveriders were sluggish offensively at times earlier in the season, but running back Keoni Yates’ return has provided a big-play component.
The senior has tasted Konawaena-Kealakehe in soccer, but never on the gridiron.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all season,” he said. “I know it’s going to be great game.”
If the contest comes down to the kickers, Yates and Konawaena’s John Replogle are two of the league’s best.
While Kealakehe has won two of three, the Wildcats come in off an agonizing loss to Hilo that was their first league blemish.
Just two minutes from a 6-0 start, the Wildcats fumbled at midfield and watched helplessly as the Vikings returned it for a touchdown.
“That was an error on the coaches,” Walters said. “The play shouldn’t have been called. End of story.”
Keaau at Kam, 7:20 p.m. today
Before heading to the playoffs, the Keaau neighbors will vie for the third annual Kipimana Cup.
The Warriors (4-4, 3-3) are trying to rebound after losing at home to Hawaii Prep 41-24 last weekend. Those same two teams hook up Oct. 19 in the Division II semifinals in Waimea.
The Division I Cougars (1-5, 1-5) won their first game in two seasons Oct. 5 at home against Honokaa. Keaau visits Hilo on Oct. 18 in a semifinal.
No matter which team wins the Kipimana Cup, W.H. Shipman, Ltd. will provide each school’s booster club with $500 after the game.