By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Week 6 of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation football season is filled with interesting subplots, not just for one or two games, but all four, featuring the two unbeatens in league play going at it.
If there were a promotion for a BIIF Big Game of the Week, Hilo at Konawaena would be highlighted in bold-type, capital-letter print.
But Hawaii Prep at Kamehameha, and Waiakea at Kealakehe are important for travel and seeding reasons, and Honokaa at Keaau would also merit special consideration because an elusive first win would go to the victor.
In a season that’s produced somewhat upside-down results, such as Kealakehe falling to both HPA and Kamehameha in consecutive weeks at home (when was the last time that happened?), the supposed Division II underdogs are better than the larger-school Division I heavyweights, at least according to the standings.
When the Division I teams (Hilo, Keaau, Kealakehe and Waiakea) and Division II teams (HPA, Honokaa, Kamehameha and Kona) engage on the gridiron, in past years it would have been an apple-pie-easy choice for Pupule Picks.
Not so this season. The D2 teams hold a 7-5 record over the D1 schools. Hilo and Keaau have a chance to balance that deficit or maybe upside-down surprises will continue to rule the day.
In any case, here’s a look at the four games:
Hilo (6-1 overall, 5-0 BIIF) at Kona (6-1, 5-0), 7:30 p.m. today.
The Vikings are not only putting their unbeaten league record on the line, but also division and school pride. They fell hard to the Wildcats 38-24 in the preseason at Wong Stadium. The home loss hurt more because Hilo struggled throwing the ball (1 of 18 for 8 yards).
Six weeks later, the Vikings are still trying to iron out their aerial attack. In last week’s 6-3 squeaker over the Waveriders, the passing game went 1 of 4 for 37 yards. Hilo runs the spread, not a pass-limited offense like Air Force’s triple option.
Hilo junior Donavan Kelley, who had the rare distinction of being an All-BIIF pick at running back and wide receiver last year, has been a part-time quarterback, along with fellow junior Sione Atuekaho.
As his numbers consistently prove, Kelley, who was 0 of 3 throwing against the Waveriders, is a big-time difference-maker when he’s running the ball, either from handoffs or receptions. He had the lone catch, 37 yards. He rushed 10 times for 60 yards, including a game-winning 13-yard touchdown.
The Vikings almost proved the theory that it’s possible to beat a three-time BIIF Division I defending champion without a single pass completion.
“The defense won it. Our offense has a lot to work on,” Kelley said. “We were in the red zone and should have scored more, but we had too many turnovers (three in all). But it’s good to have a great defense. It gives us a lot of confidence.
“We proved we can win with only a little passing. We’ve got talented runners. It’s been a long time since we’ve beaten them. It feels good.”
Hilo coach Dave Baldwin has the utmost confidence his passing game will come around, providing balance and getting run-stuffing heat off his ballcarriers.
But first he explained why it’s not working and then gave a big-picture perspective.
“It’s vision, trust and execution,” he said. “When we fix that, it’ll be fun times coaching. You’ve got to remember we’re working with teenage young men. Our coaching staff has faith in the kids and that’s unshakable regardless of the outcome. We’ll figure it out.”
Meanwhile, Hilo’s defense shackled all of the Kealakehe ballcarriers not named Keoni Yates, who rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries; the other Waveriders had 7 yards on 26 attempts.
“It was one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen from a team as a coach,” Baldwin said. “We’ve still got lots of room for improvement. Our defense played with a lot of heart and determination.”
While Hilo has leaned on the run in lopsided fashion, Kona showed its balance in a 44-7 win over Waiakea last Friday, running 34 times and throwing 31 times. Bubba Noa-Ellis led the ground charge with 85 yards on 15 carries; quarterback Brandon Howes was 17 of 31 for 229 yards with one touchdown and two picks.
Like Hilo, Kona’s defense is pretty tough. The Wildcats piled up a lot of tackles against the Warriors; linebacker Evyn Yamaguchi had 13 tackles and two picks, and Makoa Chapa added eight tackles.
Yamaguchi received the BIIF Defensive Player of the Week honor for his double-digit tackles, two interceptions and contributions in holding the Warriors to 191 yards of offense; Kona had 345 yards of offense.
Kona senior John Replogle earned the BIIF Special Teams Player of the Week honor with a school-record 47-yard field goal. The rookie kicker also added field goals of 45 and 23 yards against Waiakea.
Even though Hilo and Kona have clinched the No. 1 seed for their respective four-team playoffs, the battle of league unbeatens holds significant meaning in Baldwin’s mind.
“From week to week, our opponent changes, but not our focus,” he said. “And that’s to improve and execute in each game. “Kona’s one of the best programs on the island. They’re well-coached, they’re fundamentally sound and believe in their system. I’m an admirer of that system.”
HPA (5-2, 3-2) at Kamehameha (4-3, 3-2), 7 p.m. today.
There are better things to do than travel on a bus for 90 minutes, such as getting in extra sleep or spending more time going over the finer points of a game plan for a single-elimination semifinal in two weeks.
Next week, the Warriors and Ka Makani play Keaau and Honokaa, respectively, at home. There’s a very strong chance the HPA-Kamehameha winner will earn the No. 2 seed, and a first-round host site for their playoff rematch.
Of course that goes out the window if the Cougars upset Kamehameha or the Dragons stun HPA in the last week of the regular season.
From an individual standpoint, it’s a good head-to-head audition for quarterbacks Koa Ellis and Micah Kanehailua to claim All-BIIF recognition. Last season, Kanehailua, a Warrior junior, was snubbed while Ellis, a Ka Makani junior, was voted to the second team.
It’s a same-boat situation for senior HPA running back Bobby Lum and his Kamehameha counterpart, senior Ina Teofilo, who received not a single vote, while Lum was voted to the second team.
Last season, Kamehameha reached the BIIF championship, powered by Teofilo’s running and Kanehailua’s passing, but fell to Kona 32-28.
Waiakea (2-5, 2-3) at Kealakehe (2-4, 2-3), 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
It’s sort of the same scenario with travel and seeding implications, but the difference for the Division I matchup is next week’s opponents are much higher in the standings.
Next week, the Warriors get Hilo at their shared Wong Stadium home. The Waveriders host Kona. There will be significance on the line for Waiakea and Kealakehe in all games. But on Saturday, it’s BIIF Crosstown Rivalry Week.
Devin Preston earned the BIIF Offensive Player of the Week for his all-around production, not only carrying Waiakea’s offense, but also taking it home for repair, and getting it ready for the next game.
Of Waiakea’s 191 yards of offense, the senior running back accounted for 133 yards — 87 yards on 25 carries and 46 yards on one catch. That’s 69 percent of the offense.
Every time he ran the ball, Preston had a big bull’s-eye on his back. That’s because Kona’s defense didn’t need to worry about anyone else. The other Warriors rushed nine times for only 2 yards.
Yates gets a runner-up nod for his 65 percent of offensive production. The Waveriders had 147 yards of offense. The senior multipurpose weapon had 91 rushing yards, and was 1 of 2 for 5 yards passing.
Like Preston, the opposing defense targeted Yates and still couldn’t stop him. However, Hilo stopped everyone else. All of the other Waveriders managed only 2 yards total on nine attempts. (Quarterback sacks count against a team's rushing total, which drops total yardage for team rushing.)
Honokaa (0-6, 0-5) at Keaau (0-5, 0-5), 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Realistically, it’s the last, best chance for both teams to pick up a win because the games only get tougher the next two weeks.
Next week, the Dragons travel to HPA, and the Cougars visit Kamehameha. Then in the first round of the playoffs, Honokaa goes to Kona, and Keaau ventures to Hilo. In the first meeting, the Wildcats blanked the Dragons 45-0 and the Vikings beat the Cougars 35-7.
For Honokaa, there’s tremendous school pride on the line. The Dragons are a BIIF charter member. Since 1956, they’ve never had a winless season. They were 7-3 last year.
The other charter members — Hilo, Kohala and Pahoa — all had winless years. Honokaa is the only one still standing rich in tradition of not having a zero next to the win column. That’s 57 years.
For Keaau, the school made its football debut in 2001 and had an 0-8 record. The only other winless season was last year with an 0-7 mark.
With Honokaa’s history on the line, maybe this matchup is really the BIIF Big Game of the Week.