By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Konawaena coach Cliff Walters and wide receiver Cameron Howes have enjoyed the blazing starts and big halftime leads, but they’re ready for a challenge.
Recent history suggests that Hawaii Prep will provide just that.
The Wildcats (4-1, 3-0 Big Island Interscholastic Federation) roll into Waimea today for a 2 p.m. kickoff against Ka Makani in what shapes up as the biggest Division II football game of the regular season. A win for Konawaena would put it in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the league semifinals as the Wildcats go for their third straight BIIF title.
Ka Makani (4-1, 2-1) are seeking their third consecutive victory to force a tie atop the standings.
“I think over the course of the season, players have started to understand their roles,” HPA coach Jordan Hayslip said. “We’ve had a good week of practice, and our guys are focused.”
In Konawaena home games the past two weeks, players and fans who weren’t focused had a hard time keeping up with the running second-half clocks after the Wildcats had scored 40-plus points by halftime and coasted against both Honokaa and Keaau.
But Walters figures HPA is a different animal.
“I’d rather have a 21-14 game at halftime, with me up,” he said, “because that’s the way it’s going to be down the road. We know it’s going to be like that.”
The third-year coach oversees a defense that didn’t give up a touchdown until the fourth quarter of its third regular-season game, and the first-stringers still haven’t allowed an opposing offense to reach the end zone during the regular season.
He praises assistants Trent Walters and Brad Uemoto for the job they’ve done coordinating a Konawaena offense that’s scored 199 points in five games.
“They do a brilliant job,” Cliff Walters said. “Use the word ‘brilliant.’”
That word also could be used to describe the play of quarterback Brandon Howes, who’s tossed 15 touchdown passes and thrown for 1,589 yards, including the preseason. The senior spreads the ball around in a fast-paced, quick-strike offense, and he’s already found Chase Takaki 32 times this season. The senior has hauled in five touchdown passes the past two weeks, while sophomore Cameron Howes is second on the team with 14 catches, including two TD receptions in a 42-14 victory against the Cougars on Sept. 13.
“We’ve been having fun,” Cameron Howes said, “but we’re definitely going to have to step it up (against HPA).”
Ka Makani’s offense has found its footing since it was manhandled in a home loss Aug. 31 against Hilo, and it boasts its own big-play potential. Running back Bobby Lum has churned out consecutive 100-yard rushing games and the improved play of junior quarterback Koa Ellis helped HPA put up 76 points in victories at Kealakehe and Waiakea.
Ka Makani figure to want to ride Lum to bleed the clock and keep the ball away from Konawaena’s offense, but Ellis has thrown two touchdown passes in each of the past two weeks. Kellen Gillins has been his primary target, and Justin Perry has a touchdown catch in consecutive weeks.
When Ka Makani and Konawaena have hooked up the past two seasons, drama has often ensued.
Two years ago, the Wildcats scored a couple of come-from-behind victories en route to winning the BIIF title. In the team’s last meeting on Oct. 26, 2012, Konawaena outlasted HPA 56-49 at home in the highest-scoring game in league history.
“They’re always exciting games,” Hayslip said. “Our kids know that and have been working hard.”
Blake Hooser returned two kickoffs for a touchdown for Ka Makani in that game, and he’s already taken a kick back once this season.
However, Koanwaena kicker John Replogle has shown a penchant for touchbacks this season.
Of course, who knows how the wind will blow in Waimea?
Waiakea (1-4, 1-2) at Keaau (0-3, 0-3), 4:30 p.m. today
The winner will gain a leg up on avoiding the fourth seed in the Division I semifinals.
The Cougars were dominated in the first half the past two weeks in losses against Hilo and Konawaena, but perhaps they can try to build off the momentum dual-threat quarterback George Lucas-Tadeo gained in leading two fourth-quarter scoring drives against the Wildcats.
The Warriors’ issues have changed week to week. Waiakea suffered kicking woes in a Sept. 6 loss to Kamehameha — despite three touchdowns by running back Devin Preston — then it turned the ball over eight times Sept. 13 in a 42-12 home loss to HPA.