By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEALAKEKUA — Konawaena lived and died by the pass all year long. With the Wildcats on the ropes, running back Bubba Ellis-Noa arrived with inspiration just in time to save the season.
The rally ‘Cats struck again to deliver a three-peat, and this time they struck on the ground.
Ellis-Noa ran for two second-half touchdowns Friday night at Julian R. Yates Field as Konawaena came back to beat Hawaii Preparatory Academy 27-19 to claim its third straight Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II championship.
With the Wildcats trailing entering the fourth quarter, Ellis-Noa went to coach Cliff Walters with a suggestion.
“I told coach that I know the lineman can, so let’s just pound this ball,” Ellis-Noa said. “Once we got that fire in us, the team just came together and made it happen.”
The Wildcats forced HPA quarterback Koa Ellis into four incompletions from their 11-yard line in the final minutes to preserve a special night in Kealakekua. Earlier, the girls volleyball team beat HPA in Honolulu to win the Hawaii High School Athletic Association title.
The football team is up next on Oahu
Konawaena (10-1, 9-0) will play Kaiser on Nov. 9 in the first round of the HHSAA tournament. Kaiser (10-1) beat Pearl City 41-21 Friday night to win the Oahu Interscholastic Association title.
“We’re not done yet,” senior wide receiver Chase Takaki said.
Ka Makani (8-3, 6-3) were denied their first league title since 2009.
Ellis-Noa leaped in from a yard out with 9:03 remaining for the go-ahead score.
“Bubba simply told me: ‘Put it on my back, I’m ready to carry us in,” Walters said. “He was true to his word.”
HPA frustrated quarterback Brandon Howes for much of the game, intercepting him three times to take a 16-0 lead into halftime.
After the break, the Wildcats went to Ellis-Noa. The junior ripped off runs of 35 and 12 yards to set up Howes’ 26-yard scoring pass to Chase Takaki.
Ellis-Noa got Konawaena closer with a 13-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats defense started getting stops, sacking Ellis four times. Evyn Yamaguchi had 15 tackles and a sack. All HPA managed in the second half was a 26-yard field goal by Alex Brost.
“At first, we seemed little beat,” Yamaguchi said. “But once we started getting our spirits up, we know we’ve come back from bigger deficits than this. Everybody just started getting amped up again.”
Ellis-Noa finished with 123 yards on 11 carries and left to the chant of “Bubba, Bubba” late in the game.
“He ran like a man possessed,” Walters said.
It was a tale of two halves.
Midway through the first quarter, Caleb Kagawa sacked Howes and forced a fumble that HPA recovered at the Kona 18. On the ensuing play, Ellis hit Nicky Palleschi for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Palleschi caught nine passes for 242 yards, including a 68-yarder to set up Bobby Lum’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Lum ran for 75 yards.
Ka Makani were hampered when two-way lineman Keenan Greenbaum and cornerback Lii Purdy were ejected on separate personal foul calls during a play in the second quarter.
“Our secondary was great, but they did a good job running the ball in the second half,” HPA coach Jordan Hayslip said.
Ellis, Joey Kailimai and Justin Perry had interceptions for HPA, which lost its second heartbreaker this season to Konawaena. On Sept. 21 in Waimea, Konawaena rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit through the air to win on John Replogle’s field goal as time expired.
“We left it on the field,” Hayslip said.
HPA 10 6 3 0 —19
Kona 0 0 13 14 —27
HPA — Alex Brost 27 FG, 4:49
HPA — Nicky Palleschi 18 pass from Koa Ellis (Brost kick), 4:30
HPA — Bobby Lum 4 run (kick failed), 4:16
Kona — Chase Takaki 26 pass from Brandon Howes (Cameron Howes pass from Brandon Howes ), 9:32
HPA — Brost 26 FG, 4:22
Kona — Bubba Ellis-Noa 13 run (pass failed), 1:18
Kona — Ellis Noa 1 run (pass failed), 9:03
Kona — Makoa Chapa 2 run (John Replogle kick), 2:21