By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ofa Fahiua turned into a football magnet, and produced the best game of his life at the right time, and Hilo took care of old nemesis Kealakehe in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I championship Saturday night at Wong Stadium.
The junior linebacker accounted for a half-dozen tackles, including a sack, one fumble strip-and-recovery in the red zone, and two interceptions, the last a pick-six, to spark the Vikings over the Waveriders 21-10, helping Hilo win its first league crown since 2003 and snapping Kealakehe’s three-year title run.
“That was the first pick-six of my career,” said Fahiua, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound strong-side ‘backer of his 35-yard interception touchdown. “What I liked was that all the plays we practiced during the week worked. We read that and saw that coming. Our strong safety, Haili Mahoe, called that out. He covered the block, and my guy dropped back for the screen. At the time, I felt the ball in my hands and started running. I didn’t think anything, but keep running.
“Not winning a BIIF title since 2003, that motivated us a lot, especially the seniors. I’ve not won a championship in my whole career. I’m really glad for the seniors that they’ve become BIIF champions.”
No. 3 seed Hilo (10-1 overall, 9-0 BIIF) will play Campbell (8-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament at Keaau High. The BIIF is 0-14 in the Division I state tourney.
The Sabers defeated Kahuku 28-7 in the third-place Oahu Interscholastic Association Red division game on Saturday. The Red Raiders captured the last two state titles.
Fahiua was part of a swarming Hilo defense that shackled Kealakehe quarterback Keoni Yates, who was held to 52 yards on 21 carries and was 9 of 14 for 104 yards with two picks. Blaine Broberg caught five balls for 83 yards, all in the second half.
“This game we grinded it out. We couldn’t hold the momentum and secure it until the fourth quarter,” Hilo coach Dave Baldwin said. “But we had critical catches and runs at the right time. Our offense executed fairly well in the first half. In the second half, our defense sort of held that momentum.”
The Waveriders (4-6, 4-5) couldn’t generate much of a ground attack. The often ran straight into tacklers and gained 61 yards on 38 carries, a 1.6-yard-per-attempt average. They were stuck in third-and-long holes much of the night.
But the biggest problem was ball security. Kealakehe had six turnovers, and Hilo converted three giveaways into touchdowns: Donavan Kelley’s 30-yard swing pass to Aven Kualii, Sione Atuekaho’s 17-yard slant pass to Kelley, and Fahiua’s 35-yard interception return.
“I told the team before the game the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game,” Kealakehe coach Sam Papalii said. “I turned out to be prophetic. Our defense played a good game. They only scored 14 points off us. That other turnover (for Fahiua’s pick-six) was off our receivers hands. That’s the way the ball bounces.
“You don’t win a championship with six turnovers. Give Hilo credit. They caused some of those turnovers. They deserved to win this game.”
Kealakehe’s offense was effective only in spurts. Yates booted a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter to cut Hilo’s halftime lead to 14-3, and he scored on a 2-yard run with 9:01 left in the game.
The Vikings, who had three harmless turnovers, didn’t resemble an offensive powerhouse either. Their two speedsters, Kelley (19 yards on five carries) and Tristin Spikes (62 yards on 20 attempts), couldn’t bust a long run. Kelley’s biggest gain was 15 yards; Spikes’ best was 10 yards.
Hilo finished with 83 yards on 34 carries, a 2.4 average, but got enough balance from the arms of Kelley, who was 3 of 10 for 86 yards with a touchdown and pick, and Atuekaho, who went 3 of 8 for 50 yards with a TD and interception.
Kualii had three catches for 86 yards. Louie Garcia and Keoki Meyers hauled in Kealakehe’s interceptions.
For the most part, Vikings and Waveriders engaged each other in a defensive battle, much like Hilo’s 6-3 victory in the first meeting. Other Viking defenders also shined. Lineman Mike Williams was credited with two sacks and Jon Salzman, a defensive end, had a sack.
“Our offense doesn’t need to be (a powerhouse). But that would be nice,” said Baldwin, who knows his defense, with players like Fahiua, make enough big plays at the right time.
Kealakehe 0 3 0 7 — 10
Hilo 7 7 0 7 — 21
Hilo — Aven Kualii 30 pass from Donavan Kelley (Lucas Kuipers kick), 6:53
Hilo — Kelley 17 pass from Sione Atuekaho (Kuipers kick), 6:59
Keala — Keoni Yates FG 34, 53:8
Hilo — Ofa Fahiua 35 interception return (Kuipers kick), 11:01
Keala — Yates 2 run (Yates kick), 9:01