By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KAILUA-KONA -- Makoa Chapa rarely left the field against Kealakehe, so he had a pretty good idea of what kind of statement Konawaena had just made.
And, no, it had nothing to do with West Hawaii football bragging rights.
It was more about drive, determination and fight, Chapa said.
Brandon Howes threw three touchdown passes – two to Chase Takaki – to fuel the Wildcats’ big-play offense, and Konawaena’s lines more than held up against their physical crosstown rivals to earn a 37-23 victory on Friday night in front of a spirited crowd of about 1,800 at Waverider Stadium.
“When I look back at the beginning of the season, I smile,” said Chapa, a junior lineman who plays both ways. “I see how far we’ve come. We lost a lot of starters and our lines were small.
“Some of us lost faith. It wasn’t about size. It was about us having heart.”
One week after he coughed up a costly late fourth-quarter fumble in a loss against Hilo, Dishon Cho took the kickoff to open the second half and raced 99 yards for a score to give Konawaena a 27-7 lead.
“We’re always going to remember it,” Chapa said. “That’s the first time we ever did that; him returning it. Perfect blocking. We were determined to get that touchdown.”
The much-anticipated renewal of the rivalry drew a crowd to Kealakehe’s campus that was estimated to be its biggest in years. With the game behind them, both teams can turn their attention to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation playoffs.
Konawaena (7-2, 6-1 BIIF) hosts Honokaa (0-7, 0-6) on Oct. 18 in the Division II semifinals as it seeks its third straight league title. In Division I, the three-time defending BIIF champion Waveriders (3-5, 3-4) await a visit by Waiakea (2-6, 2-4) on Oct. 19.
But on Friday night, the Wildcats painted the town green, pouncing on six Kealakehe turnovers to produce 24 points.
“We don’t like to lose to these guys, but hats off to them,” Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii said. “They beat us.
“I thought the first fumble kind of turned the tide.”
The turnover led to Howes’ 37-yard touchdown strike to his brother Cameron Howes and a 7-7 game late in the first quarter.
It was just the first of many big plays on the night for a Konawaena offense that got little out on the ground but made up for it by gaining big chunks of yardage through the air.
Takaki got behind the defense to catch touchdown passes of 58 and 42 yards as Brandon Howes got the most from his 8-of-22 outing. The senior threw for 217 yards, 123 went to Takaki, and two interceptions. Howes also ran for a touchdown after Bubba Ellis-Noa hauled in a 38-yard catch to get the ball to the 1.
Kealakehe’s offensive was at its best on the opening drive of the game. Riggs Kurashige’s 37-yard run capped a 10-play, 80-march as the Waveriders full-house backfield established a presence on the ground.
But Konawaena’s defense stiffened from there, holding Kealakehe to 190 yards on 52 carries.
“Our main objective was to stack the line, stop the run and be able to put pressure on the quarterback when he turns to pass,” said Chapa, who finished with 17 tackles despite going up against a Kealakehe offensive line that is much bigger.
“Even though they scored on us, we weren’t going to let that get in our way.”
Linebacker Evyn Yamaguchi paced the defensive effort with 18 tackles.
Kealakehe’s Keoni Yates ran for 80 yards – but all but 8 came in the first half. Quarterback Kaimi Wilson was 6 of 22 for 52 yards.
“I’ve never been through this,” Papalii said of heading to the playoffs with a losing record. “We have to put this behind us real quick.”
Konawaena turned the ball over three times, including Keaho Kaawa’s 44-yard pick-six on an interception thrown by Shelton Grace late in the fourth quarter.
Louis Garcia’s interception and 59-yard return set up Keanu Tilfas’ 5-run scoring run on fourth down early in the quarter.
Konawaena 14 7 13 3 –37
Kealakehe 7 0 3 13– 23
Keal – Riggs Kurashige 37 run (Keoni Yates run), 7:20
Kona – Cameron Howes 37 pass from Brandon Howes (John Replogle kick), 2:35
Kona – Chase Takaki 58 pass from Brandon Howes (Replogle kick), 1:08
Kona – Brandon Howes 1 run (Replogke kick), 1:30
Kona – Dishon Cho 99 kickoff return (kick failed), 11:44
Keal – Yates 29 FG, 6:54
Kona – Takaki 41 pass from Brandon Howes (Replogle kick), 2:52
Keal – Keanu Tilfas 5 run (run failed), 10:37
Kona – Replogle 24 FG, 5:37
Keal – Keaho Kaawa 44 interception return (Yates kick), 3:55