By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
As league champion Kealakehe is going to take an opponent’s best shot to the six pack and respond to the challenge. After all that’s what a true champion does.
And on Saturday night before about 900 fans at Wong Stadium, the physical Waveriders overcame five turnovers with two third quarter touchdowns to defeat gutsy Hilo 14-6 in a critical Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I football game at Wong Stadium.
With the hard-earned win, Kealakehe (7-1 overall, 5-0 BIIF) clinched the No. 1 seed in the upcoming D-I playoffs and will host No. 4 Keaau (0-5, 0-4) in the semifinals of the four-team event on Oct. 20. In the other semifinal, Hilo (5-2, 3-2) will battle rival Waiakea (2-5, 1-3) the same night. The Vikings and Warriors are currently battling for the No. 2 seed and will play Friday evening at Wong.
The Waveriders, under head coach Sam Papalii, trailed 6-0 at the half and rode their potent ground game to score both of their TDs in the third quarter.
The first came after a Hilo fumble when Kealakehe slotback Lennox Jones capped a four-play, 57-yard drive with a 31-yard TD run through the Vikings’ defense. The talented 5-foot-6, 150-pound senior then kicked the extra point to lift the Waveriders on top 7-6 at the 6:55 mark.
The visitors followed with their second TD after senior Kainoa Kipapa intercepted a pass from Viking quarterback Drew Kell inside Kealakehe territory and returned it 41 yards to the Hilo 20-yard line. The Waveriders then marched 20 yards down the field with David “Bulldozer” Fangupo, the visitors’ imposing 6-2, 348-pound fullback, bulling in from one yard out to make it 13-6 with 2:57 left in the quarter. Jones then added the extra-point kick to extend the margin to 14-6.
Kealakehe, behind the steady quarterbacking of senior Jordan Cristobal, outrushed Hilo 94 yards to minus-1 yard in the 12-minute quarter and limited dangerous Kell to only one pass completion, a three-yard catch by senior Jacob Genegabus.
The Waveriders tried to put the game away late in the fourth quarter after stopping Hilo on fourth down of its final drive of the evening. The visitors took possession at the Viking 27 and drove to the Hilo one-yard line before the host’s defense denied them the TD with less than 1:00 remaining. But Kealakehe opted to run out the clock as the Vikings, without a time out left, watched helplessly as their shot of an upset fell short.
Jones was sensational in the final quarter, helping keep a time-consuming 11-play drive alive that moved the football to the Hilo 21-yard line before the Vikings’ defense held and the hosts regained possession on downs. Jones caught three passes from Cristobal for 30 yards in a clutch performance during the drive that kept Kealakehe slicing time off the clock as well as keeping Kell on the sideline.
Jones had a memorable evening to spoil Hilo’s Senior Night — in what the proud Vikings will remember as a golden opportunity that slipped away. The quick-and-clever Waverider slotback finished with 146 yards rushing on 12 attempts to go along with four catches for 40 yards.
The hard-to-tackle Fangupo added 49 yards on 11 tough carries with a TD.
Cristobal rushed for 23 yards on 14 carries, but his total would have been higher except that the Vikings sacked him six times, with 6-2, 265-pound junior Isi Tanikeni taking down the Kealakehe QB on two different occasions and being a thorn in the visitors’ potent ground attack throughout the hard-fought contest.
The Waveriders finished with 263 yards rushing and 68 passing for 331 total yards. That included a 182 total yards to 38 total yards advantage over Hilo in the final half.
For the game, the Dave Baldwin-coached Vikings had 49 yards on the ground and 93 in the air for 142 total yards.
Kell completed 15 of 23 passes for 93 yards and a TD. He also threw two interceptions, both by Kipapa. The visitors also held the multi-talented Viking QB to just three completions in five pass attempts in the second half for only nine yards. Sophomore Donavan Kelley led the Vikings in rushing with 19 yards on three attempts.
Kealakehe also finished with five turnovers, but only one in the second half when it came from behind to win. Hilo had three turnovers, including two in the third quarter — a fumble and an interception — when the Waveriders scored off both miscues.
The Vikings came out fired up and grabbed a 6-0 lead with 5:37 left in the first quarter when Kell threw a 21-yard scoring pass to junior running back Aven Kualii. But the hosts missed the extra-point kick.
Hilo’s pumped-up defense also contained the Waveriders’ potent rushing attack in the opening half and recovered four fumbles — one each by Holani, Makana Josue-Ma’a, Michael Williams and Keoni Kahikina-Simpliciano — to give the Vikings excellent field position.
But Kealakehe’s defense proved to be up for the challenge on this particular night, and kept Hilo out of the end zone the rest of the way after Kell’s TD pass to Kualii.
The Vikings also had a 23-field goal attempt by Keola Miller with 6:14 left in the half that missed before the hosts carried their 6-0 lead into the intermission.
In the end, Kealakehe took Hilo’s best shot in the opening half and responded with a dominant second half — just like a champion should do.
In their earlier regular season meeting at Kealakehe, the Waveriders defeated the Vikings 43-29.
In the junior-varsity contest, Hilo’s talented young squad downed Kealakehe 28-0.
Note: Saturday night was Hilo’s Senior Night. The Vikings’ homecoming game will be held during boys basketball season, according to new Hilo athletic director Sondra Lundvick.
At Wong Stadium
Kealakehe 0 0 14 0 — 14
Hilo 6 0 0 0 — 6
HILO — Drew Kell 21 pass to Aven Kualii (kick failed), 5:37
KEAL — Lennox Jones 31 run (Jones kick), 6:55
KEAL — David Fangupo 1 run (Jones kick), 2:57