By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
In the first meeting, Konawaena didn’t need to worry a whole lot about Hawaii Prep’s passing attack, which often plays a second-banana role to Bobby Lum running the football.
After all, it seems that the 5-foot, 8-inch, 210-pound senior running back is rushing for over 200 yards every week. When he piles up monster yards, and carries the offense, his teammates hop on his back and go along for the ride.
He gained 215 yards in HPA’s 28-24 victory over Kamehameha in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II semifinals on Oct. 19, a game that featured Lum’s tackle-breaking ability, two big plays from teammate Alex Brost, and better Ka Makani offensive balance.
HPA (8-2 overall, 6-2 BIIF) plays at two-time defending Division II champion Konawaena (8-2, 7-1) at 7 p.m. today for the BIIF title. HPA last won the league crown in 2009.
Kona coach Cliff Walters and his staff scouted the semifinal game and walked away with a headache, knowing the rematch will be much tougher.
“HPA showed more balance and I think Bobby Lum is the best running back in the state,” Walters said. “He’s the key to HPA’s offense, no doubt. But now they can pass just as well. You have to pay attention to that. They showed that in the game.
“Lum is a compact kid, with good moves and he’s very strong. You have to respect their pass, and it’ll be a different story with their running game. You can’t allocate that many resources up front. You have to hope they make a mistake here and there, and you’ll be able to stop him. He’s a great running back and hard to stop.”
However, Hilo beat HPA 18-10 on Aug. 31 at Waimea, and limited Lum to 62 yards on 22 carries, a 2.8-yard-per-attempt average. Although, the Vikings are one of the biggest and most physical teams in the league.
The Wildcats are one of the smallest. But they also defeated HPA 22-21 at its home field on John Replogle’s 37-yard field goal as time expired, and held Lum to 98 yards on 25 attempts. It also helped that Kona forced four turnovers — Walters’ coveted here-and-there mistakes.
The third-year Konawaena coach pointed to junior defensive lineman Makoa Chapa as a big factor in stuffing the run.
“He’s our strongest lineman, by far,” Walters said. “He runs really well. He’s quick, and has a good attitude. He’s quite a key for us.”
In the BIIF semifinal, HPA trailed Kamehameha 24-14 with 10 minutes left, and rallied not with the run but with the pass. Ka Makani quarterback Koa Ellis was 9 of 17 for 189 yards and two picks. But he offset that with timely completions and a pair of touchdown strikes.
Ellis tossed a simple screen pass to Lum, who turned it into a 38-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Brost kicked a bullet that bounced off a Warrior up-man. The Kona coaches were paying attention. (Brost also got a huge last-drive sack.)
“That was a stroke of genius or luck. I’m not sure, but that was good,” Walters said. “We’ll move our linemen out of his kicking path.”
The Wildcats will also have brushed up on their dodgeball technique, and if any HPA ball hunter goes chasing after an onside kick through a designated hole a punishing block can be expected.
Kona can also expect Ellis, at some point, to throw an improved deep ball. His 44-yard pinpoint pass to Kellen Gillins set up HPA’s game-winning touchdown, a 2-yard run by Lum, who finished with three scores against the Warriors.
Bend, don’t break
The best way to stop the run or Lum is to put extra bodies in the box and make clean tackles. The drawback is there’s going to be a one-on-one matchup somewhere. If HPA’s offensive line can pass block without committing a holding penalty (six flags in the semifinal), that puts pressure on any secondary.
Kona’s corners are 5-10 Brandon Awa and 5-9 Chase Takaki, and the safety is 5-6 Jordan Miyahira-Young. They’re not the tallest guys in the league, but Walters likes the way those three Wildcats compete and fight for the ball.
“Brandon is a great basketball player. He’s got a quick vertical,” Walters said. “You don’t have to worry about him. If he’s in the right position, he’ll do well.
“Chase is shorter and smaller. But if you throw the ball in his direction you’d better make a perfect throw because he’s one of the best corners in the league.
“Koa’s got a good arm. You have to play him honest or he’ll kill you on the pass. Jordan is a little guy, but he covers the pass well. His strength is his ability to make great decisions to know where the ball will go. He’s got good instincts.”
That’s the same description Walters sticks on linebacker Evyn Yamaguchi, who missed the first meeting because he attended a baseball showcase. He was an All-BIIF Division II first-team catcher as a junior last season.
“He’s a brilliant kid, smart in school and his sports IQ is very high,” Walters said. “He reads well, on screen passes and things like draws. He’s the guy who stops that for us all the time.”
One of HPA’s pet plays is to send left tackle Keenan Greenbaum out as the lead blocker on a screen. It works to perfection when the defense over-pursues Ellis, a shortstop by trade who can throw on the run, and loses track of Lum.
It’s the same thing when fullback Mike Nakahara heads out on a swing pass, and a linebacker disregards assignment football, which is play disciplined bend-but-don’t-break ball. Kona got burned the first time around when someone charged Ellis before he crossed the line of scrimmage.
In other words, it’s better to give up nine yards on a quarterback scramble rather than a long touchdown or gain, like Nakahara’s 51-yard reception that set up one of HPA’s scores.
Brandon Howes is Kona’s leading rusher. He’s also the quarterback, a two-way threat to throw or run. In that Sept. 21 showdown against HPA, he was 8 of 24 for 192 yards, including two TDs to Takaki for 15 and 89 yards. Howes also added 86 yards on the ground, including a 12-yard score.
Providing protection is an undersized offensive line. The Wildcat starters are junior left tackle Chapa (5-10, 225), senior left guard Kea Miyahira-Young (5-7, 185), freshman center Zach Kaiwi (5-11, 225), junior right guard Narian Gambir (5-7, 240) and sophomore right tackle Vicente Cancino (6-3, 225).
“We’re a passing team,” Walters said. “We’re getting better at pass blocking all the time. We have to put together a good game. That’s going to be our pass protection. It’s going to be OK.”
Even if the line leaks and an opponent crashes through Kona’s front door, there is a safeguard: Howes, who is not only dangerous on designed passing and running plays, but also when he goes off script.
“There’s not too much defenses that we haven’t seen. No matter what, Brandon has to make the right read,” Walters said. “He’s a smart kid and does a good job. He’s No. 2 in the state in passing stats. He gets rid off the ball quickly, and has seen blitzes all year.
“I tell him, ‘If you see a blitz, find a gap and take off. Turn on the jets and go.’ He’s done that all year. He’s done really well at it. That’s why he’s our leading rusher.
“The game is going to be fun. People are going to be entertained by what they see on Friday night. It’ll be a great thing and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re at home, and our fans get to see two good teams going against each other.”