By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hilo got the late defensive stop it needed, and kept pace with Keaau in a wild second-quarter scoring spree to pull out a long-awaited victory.
After finishing last year in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation with an 0-8 record, the Vikings stamped their new season with an exciting 28-25 win over the Cougars on Friday night before 2,000 fans at Wong Stadium.
There was drama all the way until the end as the Vikings (1-0 BIIF, 2-1 overall) tried hard to stop but watched the Cougars (0-2, 0-4) march down the field, starting from their 8-yard line, eventually reaching Hilo’s 25 and draining the clock to under 3 minutes.
Then on second-and-6, Hilo senior defensive lineman Chance Agoon, who’s been on the team four years and never saw a winning season (the school’s last was 2004), crashed through Keaau’s offensive line and sacked quarterback Keha Wong for a 16-yard loss.
“That was timely,” Hilo first-year coach Dave Baldwin said. “Keaau gave us all we could handle, but we persevered. It wasn’t a perfect game for us. But through our mistakes we were still able to pull out a victory. For the program, it’s a good thing. From a team standpoint, we’ve got a lot of room to improve.”
Still for a four-year guy like Agpoon, the victory was something to savor.
“It’s a huge first step. It was a team effort,” he said. “That last play I gave 110 percent. I think it was heart that did it for us. We pulled it out together.”
An incompletion followed and a short pass on fourth down gave the Viks the ball back on downs. They ran the clock out, but not before a fourth-down gamble near midfield that showed a certain bravado.
It was fourth-and-1 from the Hilo 44, and quarterback Drew Kell tried to pin a false-start penalty on the Cougars, who didn’t bite. After a timeout, Kell ran up the middle for 3 yards, and later took a knee, allowing Hilo, dressed in its new black-and-yellow home uniforms, to celebrate and soak in the thrill of a long-awaited victory.
The start of the game was simple enough and quite fun for the lung-healthy fans.
Keaau canceled a long Hilo opening drive, starting from its 5, blocking a 22-yard field goal attempt and scoring when Shannon Nihipali scooped up the ball and stopped running 93 yards later.
Then the second quarter turned into a dazzling display of fireworks, featuring five touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return. The Vikings and Cougars also threw fans an appetizer with long kickoff returns; 43 yards by Keaau’s Talon Ota and 50 yards by Hilo’s Kamu Patnaude.
“That was an example of us stepping up,” Agpoon said of Hilo going blow for blow instead of getting pinned in a corner, like in years past.
The Cougs had two turnovers, and the Viks were grateful and scored twice — on a pair of Kell touchdown strikes, 9 yards to Pono Miyasato and 4 yards to Chad Chun Fat. Kell also threw a third TD pass to Jacob Genegabaus.
Kell completed 8 of 15 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns. He had a lot of running help. Tristan Spikes rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries, and fellow sophomore Faoa Kelley added 70 yards on 16 attempts, all in the second half.
“When we have those two in the backfield together, it makes for a good combination,” Baldwin said. “They’ve got a little work to do, reading and knowing when to stay within their running lanes. The good news is they’re young. The bad news is they’re young. But both have a chance to improve game after game after game and I think they will.”
After Miyasato’s initial score to ignite the second-quarter festivities, Ota’s 42-yard kickoff return was followed one play later by Johnny Vance’s 52-yard touchdown run, handing the Cougars a 12-8 lead.
Vance finished with 93 yards on eight carries. Wong was 7 of 11 for 72 yards and one interception.
On the next series, Patnaude took the kickoff and blazed down the sidelines, and was tackled 50 yards downfield at the Keaau 25. On the very next play, Kell connected with Genegabaus, and threw a two-point conversion to Tyler Mahoe for a 16-12 lead.
T’shaquille Pe‘a picked off Wong on Keaau’s first play. Three plays, Hilo turned that turnover into a 22-12 lead after the Kell-Chun Fat hookup.
But excitement was still in the air, and the Cougars quickly snatched the momentum back when Raskassa Johnson scored on a 70-yard kickoff return, cutting the lead to 22-18.
Keaau recovered an onside kick, Hilo’s only turnover, but couldn’t score. The Cougars had three turnovers, including two that the Viks converted into TDs.
Compared to the second quarter, the start of the second half was relatively mild. Wong scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, leapfrogging Keaau, 25-22.
But not for long, Kelley took the kickoff and flew down the sideline, finally getting tackled after a 58-yard return on Keaau’s 20-yard line.
Three plays later, the Hilo sophomore running back scored on an 11-yard run, putting the home team ahead, 28-25, and setting up Keaau’s final drive — after the Viks couldn’t cash in on its second red-zone opportunity.
Kell’s pass was incomplete on fourth-and-goal from the Keaau 8. Hilo’s other red-zone (20 yards an in) strikeout was the blocked punt from the 5.
“That’s two times we got into the red zone and had nothing to show for it,” Baldwin said. “We’ve got to improve our red-zone scoring percentage.”
There’s room for improvement on Hilo’s part, but much more reason to celebrate, at least on a Saturday night after patching together a long-awaited victory.
In the junior varsity, it was Keaau 13, Hilo 7.
Keaau 6 12 7 0 — 25
Hilo 0 22 6 0 — 28
Kea — Shannon Nihipali 93 fumble return (kick blocked), 10.4
Hilo — Pono Miyasato 9 pass from Drew Kell (Tyler Mahoe pass from Kell), 5:18
Kea — Johnny Vance 52 run (pass failed), 4:52
Hilo — Jacob Genegabaus 25 pass from Kell (Mahoe pass from Kell), 4:35
Hilo — Chad Chun Fat 4 pass from Kell (pass failed), 2:44
Kea — Raskassa Johnson 70 kickoff return (pass failed), 2:24
Kea —Keha Wong 4 run (Talon Ota kick), 1:40
Hilo — Faoa Kelley 6 run (pass failed), 17.7