By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The Konawaena football team’s bid for a third consecutive Big Island Interscholastic Federation title just got a little easier.
The Wildcats got a spot in the Division II championship game Wednesday when Honokaa forfeited the teams’ semifinal matchup, citing a diminished roster and mounting injury concerns.
Dragons coach Bobby Embernate and school officials made the decision to forfeit Wednesday when only 22 players were able to suit up for practice. Some BIIF teams won’t field a varsity squad unless they have at least 30 players.
“The guys that came (to practice) are the ones that really wanted to play,” Embernate said. “But because of injuries, too many of the younger guys would have had to play. At that point, it becomes a safety issue.”
Konawaena (7-1) and Honokaa (0-8) were to have hooked up Friday night in Kealakekua. The Wildcats essentially get a bye into the title game, which they will host on Nov. 1 or Nov. 2 against either Hawaii Prep (5-2) or Kamehameha (4-3) — those two teams meet in a semifinal at 3 p.m. Saturday in Waimea.
With the forfeiture, the Dragons suffer their first winless season in 57 years of BIIF football.
Honokaa was in danger of not fielding a varsity team this season when only 14 players turned out for the start of preseason practice. Embernate said that number grew to as high as 51 before injuries and grade issues began to take their toll.
“Too many broken bones, too many concussions,” he said.
Among the players lost for the season was senior co-captain Wayne Vaoga, who suffered an elbow injury during a 45-0 loss to Konawaena on Sept. 6. The Dragons only brought 30 players to their game last Saturday at Hawaii Prep, a 41-0 loss.
With 34 players on the roster eligible to return next year, Embernate was hopeful that Honokaa would be able to field a varsity team, but he said the school would explore all of its options.
Kohala and Ka’u both pulled out of the BIIF before the season, and the Trojans are fielding an eight-man team
“We’ll try to make a decision on varsity early and see how spring ball goes,” Embernate said. “If not, we could play eight-man (next season).”