By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
For the second consecutive season, quarterback Lii Karratti is leading a high-powered offense into the Hawaii High School Athletic Association football tournament.
But this isn’t quite the same Karratti that Konawaena fans may remember. The 2012 version thrived through the air, throwing for 42 touchdowns and 2,939 yards for the pass-happy Wildcats.
This season, Karratti has spent the balance of his time handing the ball off for run-heavy Kaiser, which averaged more than 50 points per game in racing to its first Oahu Interscholastic Association title since 1979.
In a juicy subplot to today’s Division II first-round game on Oahu, the three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Wildcats (10-2) go up against Karratti, who left Konawaena after his junior season. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“We’ll have a little extra motivation on Oahu,” Konawaena coach Cliff Walters said, perhaps referring to Rich Miano’s recruitment of Karratti to Kaiser.
Walters’ first two seasons in Kealakekua each ended with first-round losses at states, and HPA is the only island team to win a Division II game. Walters and the Wildcats figure to face their toughest test yet against a powerful Cougars team that went 10-1 in the OIA.
Kaiser’s offense has hummed all season long. Operating out of the power-I, running backs Fitou Fisiiahi and Thomas Leong each average more than eight yards per carry and have scored 15 touchdowns apiece. In limited duty, Karratti still has managed to complete more than 60 percent of his passes.
“We’ve got to believe in ourselves, because we can do it as long as we believe,” Wildcats senior linebacker Evyn Yamaguchi said. “It starts with our defensive line and getting low.”
Konawaena is undersized up front — standout defensive end Koa Basque is listed at just 5 feet 8, inches and 165 pounds. But Walters said the Wildcats are used to beating teams that are bigger and faster, including a 27-19 victory against Hawaii Prep in the BIIF title game Nov. 1.
“Physically, they were superior to us,” Walters said. “But we refuse to quit and keep fighting until the end.
“We just try to claw back and make things happen.”
Senior quarterback Brandon Howes didn’t miss a beat earlier this season in taking over for Karratti, finishing with 2,234 yards passing and 21 touchdowns — 10 to Chase Takaki — in eight league games directing Konawaena’s spread attack.
He tossed four of his 11 interceptions against Ka Makani, but the offense finally found some semblance of balance thanks to running back Bubba Ellis-Noa. A forgotten man much of the season, the senior is coming off of a 123-yard, two-touchdown performance.
He thinks he earned a few more carries at states.
“We’re a pass-happy team, but when I get the chance, I just try to do whatever I can behind my lineman,” he said. “I always want the ball, but it’s whatever the coaches want.
“I think we can make it happen (on Oahu).”
Miano is in is second season at his alma mater. The former University of Hawaii standout played for three teams during an 11-year NFL career.