By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The way Hilo High School football head coach Dave Baldwin sees it, perennial powerhouse Kealakehe is sitting on top of the mountain and enjoying the view.
“They’re the Goliath, a real juggernaut,” the new Vikings coach said. “Kealakehe is a really good football team with an established championship caliber program. (Head coach) Sam (Papalili) is a helluva coach and he’s doing a great job. They’re playing at a high standard and I don’t see any weaknesses in them since they’re still undefeated in the BIIF.
“They’re sitting on top of the mountain and enjoying a beautiful view as champion. They’re where the rest of us in the BIIF want to be.”
In Big Island Interscholastic Federation action Saturday night, the resurging Vikings (5-1 overall, 3-1 BIIF) host Kealakehe (6-1, 4-0) in a key contest at Wong Stadium. The junior varsity game will start at 4 p.m., with the varsity to follow 30 minutes later.
“It’s homecoming for Hilo High and we want to start a little earlier,” Baldwin said on Tuesday before football practice.
But once the varsity game starts, Baldwin knows his Vikings will have a major battle on their hands. Kealakehe defeated Hilo 43-29 in their first league meeting and the Vikings coach believes his team learned from the experience.
“As long as they keep score in a game, the ultimate goal is to get a victory,” Baldwin said. “There aren’t any moral victories. But you need to learn from your mistakes to get better and we need to play good, solid fundamental football and not turn the ball over to have a chance against Kealakehe.”
He emphasized the Vikings will have to play well in three areas to be successful — offense, defense and special teams. In their first meeting, Hilo turned the ball over three times and it cost the Viks.
“We’ve got to execute and not turn the ball over,” Baldwin said. “So far, we haven’t put all three phases together yet for a full game. That’s what we’re shooting for, to play four quarters of good, solid fundamental football, to execute all the way through, and fulfill the team’s potential to do exactly that.”
Baldwin has turned around a Viking football program that struggled last year and didn’t win a game. But he’s not concerned about what happened last year or anything that’s happened up until this point of the season. He’s focused on each daily practice in building a strong, disciplined program that will produce a championship-caliber team in the future.
“We aspire to play at a championship level,” the Hilo coach said. “But we’re focused on things we can control. We want to build every day with character kids and once you start doing that, good things start happening on and off the playing field. We want high character kids to lead and do the job in class and on the football field.”
Baldwin is pleased with the effort that he and his staff have seen from their squad this season, but he notes the job isn’t done and there is still a lot of football left to be played.
“We can’t see what’s around the corner, so we don’t know what’s there,” Baldwin said. “But we’re trying to become the best football team we can become, and the best football program we can become by working hard every day and doing the rights things to get better.
“I don’t mind losing to a better football team. But if we do, we need to learn from our mistakes and get better.”
On Saturday night, the Vikings will get a chance to see how far they’ve come since their Sept. 15 loss to the Waveriders at Kealakehe.
In that loss, Hilo junior quarterback Drew Kell completed 22 of 33 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns to go along with two interceptions. Two of Kell’s long passes went to sophomore Donavan Kelley, who scored on 79- and 84-yard pass plays.
But the Vikings had a difficult time stopping the Waveriders’ running game. The hosts had 434 yards rushing. Lennox Jones led the way with 145 yards on 12 attempts and he scored three TDs. Big David Fangupo, a 6-foot-2, 348-pound fullback, added 105 yards and a TD on 12 carries while quarterback Jordan Cristobal had 112 yards and a TD on 18 attempts.
Cristobal also completed just 3 of 15 passes, including a TD toss, and had a pass picked off. But it was his 55-yard TD late in the fourth quarter that sealed the hard-earned victory.
Baldwin said he’s looking forward to the rematch and hoping the Vikings finally put together four solid quarters.
“If we can play a complete game of solid fundamental football and not turn the ball over, we’ve got a chance,” the coach said. “That’s what we’ve been working on and that’s what we’re asking the team to do.”
In other action Saturday, Hawaii Prep (3-5, 3-3) hosts Ka’u (2-4, 2-4) with a 2 p.m. start.Tonight, it’s Keaau (0-5, 0-4) vs. Waiakea (2-5, 1-3) at Wong Stadium and Konawaena (5-4, 5-1) at Honokaa (6-2, 5-1).
Breast cancer awareness
Baldwin said Hilo High will sponsor a breast cancer awareness session on top of the homecoming ceremony during Saturday’s Kealakehe-Hilo game.
“It’s to support breast cancer awareness and there will be students and players wearing pink to make the community more aware of the disease,” he said. “We’re going to be playing football, but breast cancer awareness is about life and affects a lot of people in our community.”
Konawaena at Honokaa, 7 p.m. today
Two days after learning their team forfeited three games because of an ineligible player, the Wildcats (5-1 BIIF Division II, 5-4 overall) responded by beating Kamehameha 16-3 at home last Saturday to win the BIIF Division II first-half regular-season title.
Konawaena totaled just 97 yards of offense against the Warriors, but a defense that forced four turnovers, recorded a safety and returned a fumble for touchdown carried the Wildcats.
Konawaena defensive end Chayne Bohol, a strong pass rusher at defensive end, sprained his left knee in the contest and will not play against the Dragons, Wildcats coach Cliff Walters said.
Sophomore Makoa Chapa will step in for the senior on defense, and senior Shannon Hardy will spell Bohol on the offensive line.
Konawaena’s defense faces the task of slowing down a Honokaa offense that came alive last Friday in a 55-7 home win over Hawaii Prep after making a handful of lineup changes.
The Dragons (5-1, 6-2) moved Sione Epenesa from fullback to quarterback, and the sophomore responded by completing 3 of 5 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.
Epenesa still proved a threat in the running game, rushing for 58 yards behind a line in which senior Triton Reich moved from left tackle to center.
“They are way tougher than what they were before,’’ Walters said. “They’re a different team with the change at quarterback.”
Meanwhile, Michael Higaki took over Epenesa’s role in the offense and flourished, running for 87 yards and two touchdowns and catching a touchdown pass.
Senior running back Justen Kawamoto, the team’s leading rusher, gained 106 yards and a touchdown against the Ka Makani.
“We know, when you go to Honokaa, you have a street fight,’’ Walters said.
The Dragons must contend with a potent passing offense that didn’t fare well last week, generating just 33 yards through the air.
Junior quarterback Lii Karratti has thrown for 1,739 yards and 26 touchdowns — both are state highs — with three interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Domonic Morris, who leads the BIIF in receiving yards (524) and touchdowns (10), tweaked a hamstring against Kamehameha but Walters declared him ready to play today.
Senior Kenan Gaspar has caught 17 passes for 459 yards and six scores, while junior Chase Takaki has 18 receptions for 280 yards and three TDs.
John Kamoku leads the Wildcats ground game, having rushed for 509 yards and 13 touchdowns on 57 carries.
On Sept. 1, Konawaena defeated Honokaa 49-13, with Karratti throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
The Wildcats have won the past three meetings between the teams.
— Joe Ferraro, Stephens Media
Keaau vs. Waiakea,
7:30 p.m. today
Both teams aim to end losing streaks today at Wong Stadium, with the Warriors (1-3 BIIF Division I, 2-5) having lost their past three games and the Cougars (0-4, 0-6) on a seven-game skid dating back to last year.
Warriors senior quarterback Kean Wong, also a threat to run, has completed 26 of 43 passes for 518 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions.
Senior wideout Dayton Kiko has caught four of Wong’s TD passes, with all of them coming on plays of 40 yards or more.
The Cougars have their own potent quarterback in Keha Wong, who threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-27 Keaau loss to Waiakea on Sept. 1. However, the senior did not play for undisclosed reasons last Friday in the team’s 24-6 loss to Keaau.
Senior Johnny Vance, a strong running back and wide receiver, and Jaren Qulhano-Makaweotook shared the quarterback duties against the Vikings, combining to complete 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards.
— Joe Ferraro, Stephens Media
Ka‘u at Hawaii Prep,
2 p.m. Saturday
The Ka Makani (3-3, 3-5 BIIF Division II) will try to shake off a 55-7 loss at Honokaa, while the Trojans (2-4, 2-4) try to earn their first victory on the field since Week 5 of the 2011 season.
In the last meeting between the teams, HPA beat Ka‘u 41-0 behind senior Mike Nakahara and junior Bobby Lum, who combined to rush for 173 yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries.
— Joe Ferraro, Stephens Media