By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Konawaena rushed its way to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II title, and no one carried a bigger load or bull’s-eye on his back than John Kamoku, who never stopped running until a championship medal hung around his neck.
He stood outside a locker room late Friday night explaining how the Wildcats took down Kamehameha, 32-28, when the opposing defense was geared to stopping the 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back.
Konawaena (9-4) will host Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up Nanakuli (6-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state playoffs.
The Warriors stuck their best cornerback, Shaun Kagawa, on Domonic Morris, who entered the game with 726 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches. Kagawa blanketed him and pitched a shutout; Morris had no catches.
Kaua Aganus was assigned to Kenan Gaspar, Kona’s other dangerous wide receiver. He fought hard to haul in five passes for 77 yards. Gaspar, who had 650 yards and 10 TDs before the game, moved the chains, but didn’t get any scores.
Kamehameha’s defense didn’t sack quarterback Lii Karratti, but pressured him enough and clogged his passing lanes to submit subpar numbers: 6 of 18 for 89 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.
The Warriors, with run reinforcements, were waiting every time the ball went to Kamoku, who made something happen even when there were no holes. He raced to the edges, powered through the teeth of the defense, and finished with 231 yards and two TDs on 20 carries.
Kona rushed for 298 yards on 38 carries, a 7.84-yard-per-carry average. Bubba Ellis-Noa provided tough interior running, and added 64 yards on 12 carries.
“I believed in our team, my offensive line, and that our defense could stop them,” said Kamoku, looking fully recharged and ready for additional duty. “This win feels great. We all worked together and played together as a team.
“I went with the flow. Whatever my brothers gave me, I took advantage, got scores and yards. I just believed. I give big credit to my line.”
Kona’s line of Chayne Bohol, Kevin Haleamau, Makoa Chapa, Vinny Chang and Keau Malina-Serion isn’t all that big. No one is taller than 6 feet or heavier than 250 pounds. But the members are mobile, especially when pulling on stretch runs, like Kamoku’s 69-yard TD in the first quarter.
“They gave me big holes. That one long run I had I trusted in them,” Kamoku said. “My outside tackle blew up that guy and I followed. A lot of the runs were on pulls. We did that to get scores and yards.”
Kamoku isn’t that big either. He and Karratti are roughly the same size. But Kamoku finds a way, especially when his O-line opens a hole, big or small.
“I have to give full credit to our offensive line,” Kona coach Cliff Walters said. “Kamehameha has a great defensive line. They’ve been tough all year. But we needed our offensive line to step up, make some blocks, make it happen and they did. Then John could use his footwork and speed.
“John has more than just speed. There are other guys just as fast as him. What he has is great eyes. He can see the field, where he needs to go and he sees the hole and hits it hard. Then good things happen.”
Meanwhile, it was much of the same thing for Kamehameha sophomore quarterback Micah Kanehailua when he targeted Kagawa or Kama Vincent. Kagawa caught four passes for 114 yards, including scoring strikes of 31 and 60 yards. Vincent had three receptions for 74 yards.
The two wide receivers are seniors. At least the Warriors (10-3) have a nice returning nucleus with Kanehailua and a pair of juniors in corner Aganus and running back Ina Teofilo, who earns his yards the old-fashioned way by bowling over people. He rushed for 122 yards on 23 carries.
Kamoku, Teofilo, and Kagawa put up sparkling numbers in the BIIF championship, when defenses don’t give an inch. But Kamoku shined brightest and even more impressive he was asked to carry a big load with a bull’s-eye on his back.
“The biggest difference was John,” Walters said. “When you have 231 yards on 20 carries, that’s unbelievable. He stepped up at the end of the season and did everything we asked. He’s a wonderful kid and talented.
“I told John before the game, ‘We might have to ride your back to victory, so prepare yourself.’ Well, we rode on his back. He did that and he stepped up. He was awesome.”