By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
It was raining hard, like Mother Nature was throwing a major cow, last Saturday night at Keaau High’s football stadium. That didn’t bother the Cougars, who celebrated the thrill of their first victory. Honokaa’s players trudged off the soggy green grass, still chasing their elusive first win.
In a battle between winless ballclubs, the Cougars made less mistakes and relied on Kiliona Pomroy’s power running to upend the Dragons 14-6 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation game, giving host Keaau a reason to feel good, especially with a highlight triumph on homecoming.
Maybe Honokaa (0-7 overall, 0-6 BIIF) missed a golden opportunity to get off the schneid (winless, scoreless or hitless, according to urbandictionary.com).
No doubt, the competition gets tougher when the Dragons visit Hawaii Prep (6-2, 4-2) at 2 p.m. today in BIIF Crosstown Rivalry Week. Then they travel to face Konawaena in the BIIF Division II semifinals. They lost the first encounter 45-0 at Julian Yates Field.
If there were any tears with the agony of defeat, that was all washed away in the rain drops.
Honokaa’s chase to extend history — the charter BIIF football member is the only school not to have a winless season in 57 years — marches on through youth, inexperience and tough opponents.
“We were competitive all the way to the end,” Honokaa coach Bobby Embernate said. “We had a chance, an opportunity, to win the game. But with our youth and mistakes, you have to give it to Keaau. They capitalized on our mistakes.”
Singling out one particular painful miscue is a parlor game, much like asking a knocked out mixed martial arts fighter, “What part of your body hurts most?”
The obvious answer: everything hurts.
Late in the third quarter, Allie Shiraki lined up for a 20-yard field goal that would have given Honokaa a 9-8 lead. There was a low snap, but holder/quarterback Nainoa Falk made the best out of a bad situation, fielding the ball and throwing in the end zone. The two-point pass attempt was dropped.
One bummer was that Shiraki, a standout soccer and softball player, was drilling long field goals, including a 41-yarder, in practice, according to coach Embernate. It would have been something for Honokaa’s history books with a female kicking a game-winning field goal.
But it wasn’t meant to be, not on a night when mistakes came in rain drops.
Much earlier, what also hurt was Jared Makaweo-Quihano’s opening kickoff return to start the third quarter. The senior Cougar went right up the gut and landed on Honokaa’s 5-yard line. A penalty pushed the ball back, but Keaau was in the red zone and eventually scored when George Lucas-Tadeo threw a 14-yard strike to Usti Koga.
And in the second half, Pomroy piled on more agony. The 5-foot-10, 238-pound junior linebacker-turned-running back chewed up Honokaa’s run defense with 88 yards on 11 carries all in the last two quarters, including a 34-yard touchdown run late in the game.
Put Pomroy in an HPA uniform and it would be hard to tell him apart from Ka Makani bull rusher Bobby Lum, who’s listed at 5 feet 8 and 210 pounds. Lum is known for breaking tackles and getting yards after contact — something Keaau’s bulldozer duplicated in his first time running the ball.
In HPA’s 41-24 rout over Kamehameha last week, Lum couldn’t be tackled or stopped. The senior running back rumbled for 235 on 31 carries, and ran for three touchdowns. He also scored on a 32-yard fumble return.
For that fine all-around effort, Lum was named the BIIF Offensive Player of the Week.
Pomroy was a close second for the honor. He had less carries but a better rushing average, 8 yards per carry to Lum’s 7.6-yards-per-attempt average. After Keaau’s ground game struggled all season, Pomroy’s bull rushing presented itself just in time for a joyous first win.
Meanwhile, the Dragons go from a bigger runner (Pomroy) to one with more experience (Lum), and a Ka Makani offense that features pretty decent balance. HPA quarterback Koa Ellis was 10 of 15 for 163 yard with two touchdowns and two picks against the Warriors.
The Dragons know they’ve got a lot of things — youth, inexperience, and a bad habit for self-induced mistakes — stacked against them. But Embernate looks at his young players and sees resolve, always a good starting point for a team on the rebuild.
“With this team, no matter what we play to the end,” he said. “That’s a positive. We’ve got to build on that. We’ve got a young team and played with only six seniors against Keaau.
“To me, the way the league is set up it’s a long preseason. The season starts when we go to No. 1 Kona. That’s when the real season starts. It’s a long preseason for us to get better.”
As far as chasing history, there are more important things than old numbers in Embernate’s mind.
“With the situation we’re in and the cards we’ve been dealt, if we win, we win. If we lose, we lose,” he said. “We’re going to keep building. That’s what we want to accomplish this year.”
Hilo (7-1, 6-0) at Waiakea (2-6, 2-4) at 7:30 p.m. today
For the Warriors, the big question is: Does Devin Preston, who has 945 yards and six touchdowns, crack the 1,000-yard rushing barrier today or next week against Kealakehe in the BIIF semifinals?
In last week’s 31-14 loss at Kealakehe, Preston ran for just 52 yards with no touchdowns. Getting that coveted 55 yards on the ground will be a good motivation, but a bigger one is treating the Hilo matchup as a dress rehearsal, and implementing all points of a game plan.
One good place to start is stopping the other team’s best player, something the Warriors failed to do against Keoni Yates, who scampered around the corner for most of his 153 yards. On Kealakehe’s sweeps, either someone on Waiakea’s defensive line got sealed or the second-level didn’t crush blockers and contain the perimeter.
The Warriors go from facing a sharp knife to a double-edged sword. The Vikings have two speedy guys — running back Tristin Spikes and slotback Donavan Kelley — who give defenses big-time headaches.
In Hilo’s 21-16 road win against Konawaena, much was made of a late fumble recovery that Makana Josue-Maa scooped up and returned for a game-winning 52-yard touchdown.
For that, Josue-Maa, also a pretty good hitter on Hilo’s baseball team, earned the BIIF Defensive Player of the Week honor. If hitting is all about timing for baseball, then he belted a homer with his timely turnover.
It’s no secret that the Vikings passing game is still a work in progress. Sione Atuekaho was 6 of 19 for 88 yards against the Wildcats. Basically, everyone in the BIIF knows the rushing attack is Hilo’s main weapon.
However, the Wildcats couldn’t shut down Spikes, who finished with 117 yards of his team’s 186 yards on the ground. And when Kelley caught the ball, he was dangerous, too. He had three receptions for 53 yards.
Now, it’s Waiakea’s turn to deal with Hilo’s two-part headache in the latest edition of BIIF Crosstown Rivalry Week.