By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Not that life gets any easier, but at least for Keaau the Big Island Interscholastic Federation football’s two biggest bullies — Hilo and Kealakehe — in the neighborhood are gone for the day, probably not to be seen again until the playoffs.
The Vikings and Waveriders have the largest and most physical defensive lines in the league, and handily used that advantage to sew up Division I victories over the Cougars, who lost to Hilo 35-7 and to Kealakehe 21-12. Both times, Keaau couldn’t crack the team total 100-yard rushing barrier.
Unless an offense has a precision passing attack, like the June Jones-piloted University of Hawaii aerial show in the glory years, it’s really tough to move the chains when it’s third-and-long all the time.
A coach doesn’t need to be a sabermetrician to know that the best running backs average around 5 yards per carry. Most passing attempts average roughly 10 yards. The moderately average quarterback has a 50 percent completion rate.
It’s simple math and philosophy that most teams pass on third-and-long, not only figuring the odds are better, but also the matchups. In pass coverage, most linebackers are stationed no farther than the required first-down distance. It’s basically the bend-but-don’t-break theory.
If it’s third-and-9, a defense will gladly give up a 7-yard run, as long as the ball is not in red-zone territory. And if a defense has really fast linebackers then that run cushion becomes the size of a pineapple. There’s also third-level run support, too, with a safety.
Keaau’s strength, besides its fierce determination to snap last season’s 0-7 record, is the offensive line with four returning senior starters in Tyago Mercado, Dustin Liva, Roger Bryant and Kawai Ronia. Blocking with the same personnel only strengthens the glue on the line. It’s the same principle as playing with the same doubles partner in tennis.
In coaches’ circle speak, it’s familiarity breeds comfort. Comfort breeds team chemistry. Team chemistry breeds winning. The Cougars are searching for the last part in a dark tunnel, hoping their O-line guys shine the brightest light.
Against a green defensive line, they’ll be the matchup to watch as Keaau (0-2 overall, 0-2 BIIF) visits Konawaena (3-1, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m. today at the Wildcats’ thunderdome known as Julian Yates Field, where home support is loud and influential.
Lineman Makoa Chapa and linebacker Evyn Yamaguchi are the only returning starters in Kona’s front seven. Behind their charge, the defense has dropped a hammer in last Friday’s 45-0 win over Honokaa and a 37-3 rout over rival Kamehameha.
Speaking of strong defenses, the worst thing for a quarterback is when he thinks too much in a passing situation, specifically in third-and-long pickles with an impending pass rush.
Maybe he struggles with reading presnap coverage and gets flooded with questions: Where’s the safety? Is it man or zone defense? What’s that overload mean? Where’s the blitz coming from? Did we get the right blocking call?
Then when all the parts start moving, he’s playing catch-up and trying to diagnose coverage, while going through his passing options before his pocket caves in. And maybe even worse, improper footwork comes into play and wobbly throws result in interceptions.
It’s tough enough to keep your eyes downfield, drop back from under center or take a seven-yard snap in the spread and not glance at the line looking for leaks — for any QB in the BIIF or elsewhere.
Hilo’s pass rush, led by senior terror Isi Holani, was quite forceful last Saturday, causing all sorts of timing issues for Keaau quarterback George Lucas-Tadeo, who went 8 of 26 for 60 yards and one interception, including incompletions on his first six throws.
But once he found a rhythm the senior QB started stringing together passes, not long bombs but short stuff to move the chains. It may not seem to mean much, but it’s always a consolation when a team doesn’t get blanked. Zeph Pavao scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, spoiling Hilo’s shutout bid.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are sailing along like a summer breeze. They put on a scoring clinic in a 45-0 shutout over Honokaa last Friday at their thunderdome. Their three stars came to play: quarterback Brandon Howes was 17 of 29 for 312 yards with five touchdowns, Chase Takaki had six catches for 143 yards and three scores, and Bubba Ellis-Noa rushed for 103 yards on 14 carries.
The good news for the Cougars is that they’ve faced the league’s two biggest and most physical defensive lines. The bad news is the Wildcats (outscoring BIIF foes 92-3) are the hottest offense on the island at the moment.
Hawaii Prep (3-1, 1-1) at Waiakea (2-2, 1-1), 7 p.m. today
Why is this game so important, even though it’s two teams in different divisions?
For several reasons, all concerning standings. Let’s start with the biggest one first. The Division I and II teams with the best record in the BIIF standings will draw the top seed and home-field advantage in each division’s four-team playoffs.
All the games hold significance, unlike cross country, for example, where the regular-season meets are essentially tuneups for the BIIF championship. Of course, the same division head-to-head gridiron matchups mean more in the case of tied records.
If two teams finish with the same record in their division, it goes to a head-to-head tiebreaker. If three are tied, it’s point differential among the trio.
Finally, both teams should have a firmer grasp on their standing in relation to others in the league. That brings to mind Bill Parcells. One of his enduring quotes was “You are what your record says you are.”
For the Ka Makani, are they the big-play scoring machine that took down Kealakehe 34-21 on the road last Saturday? Or are they the team that got flattened by Hilo’s ground game and defensive size and strength in an earlier 18-10 home loss?
For the Warriors, can they find consistency with their kicking unit? Losing is one thing. Giving away points to lose a heart-breaker is another. They went 1 of 3 on PAT attempts in a 27-25 setback to Kamehameha last Friday.
At least Waiakea seems to have settled on a quarterback. Bryce Felipe was 10 of 20 for 241 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. But he was big-time solid with the long ball, launching completions of 63, 40, 34, 33 and 27 yards in the loss to the private-school Warriors.
Most coaches prefer lower percentage bombs that present scoring opportunities than higher percentage short stuff on time-consuming drives that don’t reach the red zone (the area inside the opponent’s 20-yard line).
Devin Preston was his usual productive self. The Waiakea senior running back pounded forward for 115 yards on 24 carries, caught two passes for 54 yards, and scored three touchdowns.
Seabury Hall, considered the best of the state’s five 8-man football teams, defeated Ka‘u 32-20 last Friday under the bright lights in Pahala, kicking off the league’s debut in the fast-paced game and making history in the process.
It wasn’t just fast action with players running into open spaces. But the clock moved in a hurry, too. The excitement tagged along as well all game long.
“It’s a really, really fast game. I mean fast. In two hours the game was over,” Ka‘u coach DuWayne Ke said. “Everyone, me, the referees, we were all learning. The refs were like, ‘Brah, we’re still learning this.’ I said, ‘Not a problem. We’re here and the kids are here to have fun.’
“I’m happy Seabury Hall came out and happy we played them. It was a hard-hitting game. We had a lot of cramping on the field.”
Last season, the Spartans had a six-game winning streak in the Maui Interscholastic League. The other 8-man MIL teams are Hana, Molokai and St. Anthony. There are no other 8-man teams in the state.
Trojans junior Cy Tamura scored two touchdowns, catching a 35-yard pass from senior quarterback Chance Emmsley-Ah Yee, and returning a punt 80 yards. Pono Leffew-Palakiko added the other touchdown, a 75-yard run.
“We opened a beautiful hole for Pono. I told the team that’s how we need to play, smart football,” Ke said. “I was impressed that we were down only 13-10 at halftime. After halftime, we went down because of conditioning.
“They shined as a team. I told them, ‘It takes a whole team to score a touchdown.’ Then they turned around and said, ‘Yes, coach.’ To put points on the board, we have to play as a team.”
Ke didn’t really have time to survey the size of the crowd, but he felt the energy from the home support after halftime when more fans arrived when it was pau hana (after work) time.
“It was 200 people or more. I was just glancing, but on the sideline on the hill, the bleachers in the end zone and the makai (ocean) side was packed,” he said. “After halftime, more people came. It was pretty busy. The crowd, our principal (Sharon Beck), and I were happy. We were all happy.”
The Trojans (0-1) get a bye this week and host the Kealakehe JV at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 at home in 8-man football.
Editor’s note: The Kamehameha at Kealakehe, and Honokaa at Hilo games will be profiled in Saturday’s edition.