By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Top Big Island Interscholastic Federation officials hope to decide today if any Hilo football players will be suspended for leaving their bench during a shoving-and-pushing incident that took place during their Division I semifinal game against Keaau on Friday night.
The top-seeded Vikings beat the fourth-seeded Cougars 41-26 at Wong Stadium to advance to the BIIF championship game against second-seeded Kealakehe on Nov. 2 at Wong. The winner of the Hilo (9-1 overall, 8-0 BIIF) vs. Kealakehe (4-5, 4-4) contest will earn the league’s lone D-I berth in the state tournament.
Kealakehe defeated third-seeded Waiakea 31-14 in the other semifinal at Kealakehe on Saturday night.
“We want to make a decision as quickly as possible, but we want to have all the facts before moving forward,” BIIF executive director Lyle Crozier told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. He said he will meet today with BIIF president Shawn Suzuki, the Konawaena principal, and try to render a decision.
“We have received the incident reports from the game officials and Hilo High, and have tape from the incident that we’re reviewing,” Crozier said. “We’re still waiting on another piece of tape that shows the bench areas at that time. (BIIF football coordinator) Kalei Namohala was at the game and saw what happened. Once we get all the facts, we’ll try to make a decision.”
With Hilo leading 34-14, the incident occurred late in the third quarter when the Vikings’ Kui Mortensen intercepted a pass from Keaau quarterback George Lucas-Tadeo deep in Hilo territory. Mortensen jumped high into the air to grab the ball and was tackled hard by a Cougars player.
Following the interception and hard, clean tackle, a Keaau player and a Hilo player got into a shoving match that emotionally ignited players from both teams as they faced off and verbally jousted near the left corner of the Viking end zone. However, except for the initial incident immediately following the interception, the game officials as well as Hilo and Keaau coaches stepped in and quickly separated the teams.
Then following a short meeting between the game officials and the schools’ head coaches, one player from Keaau and one from Hilo were ejected, and each team was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when the game resumed.
The BIIF is investigating to see if any of the Hilo or Keaau players on the bench entered the field of play during the third-quarter incident. According to Hawaii High School Athletic Association rules, if a substitute (player not participating in the game) goes onto the field once a fight occurs, he will be suspended.
Hilo could be impacted by the rule for the championship game, but Keaau’s season is over and the Cougars may not suffer any consequences, depending on the BIIF’s findings.
According to the HHSAA rulebook, the Vikings will lose the ejected player for the final against Kealakehe, unless Crozier and Suzuki adjust their final judgement on the incident.
Crozier also confirmed that a Hilo and Keaau parent tried to go on the field during the incident and were turned away by Hilo principal Bob Dircks and athletic director Sondra Lundvick.
“It is up to the school principals how they want to handle the parents,” Crozier said. “But maybe we need to place police officers near the end zones to provide even more security at the games.”
Following Hilo’s win over Keaau on Friday night, Viking head coach David Baldwin was still shaken by the third-quarter incident and the potential of losing any players to suspensions.
“It was chaos and confusion,” Baldwin said of the incident. “Our offensive guys saw Kui get the interception and ran on the field as part of the change in possession. I couldn’t really see what was going on after the play, but when I saw Keaau players come off the bench, I had to go out there to try to help calm things down.”