By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
WAIMEA – Hilo coach David Baldwin made the quarterback switch with a change of pace in mind.
What he and the Vikings got was that and a whole lot more.
Sione Atuekaho sparked three second-half scoring drives Saturday, and Hilo’s defense dominated Hawaii Prep for an 18-10 victory in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation football game.
“With anything, it’s about finding the right recipe,” Baldwin said of QB spot. “Every week’s a process.”
And Atuekaho took a giant step.
Hilo (2-1, 1-0 BIIF Division I) had only completed one pass in the previous six quarters when Atuekaho took over in the third, finishing 4 of 8 for 65 yards to give his offense some much-needed balance.
“It’s kind of like when duty calls,” Atuekaho said. “When a coach calls, I just step up to do the work to help the team.”
Junior running back Tristin Spikes ran 22 times for 157 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown scamper late in the fourth quarter.
And while Hilo’s defense was stingy in the first half, it was downright nasty in the second half. The Ka Makani (2-1, 0-1 BIIF Division II) were held to 24 second-half yards and only 132 for the game.
“Hilo’s defense played a great game,” HPA coach Jordan Hayslip said. “Really aggressive.”
Hilo intercepted Hawaii Prep quarterback Koa Ellis three times after Rayce Takayesu’s 27-yard field goal gave the Vikings their first lead early in the fourth quarter.
All the Ka Makani managed offensively on the day was a 32-yard field goal by Justin Perry, which came after Hilo botched a punt snap in its own territory and helped HPA take a 3-0 lead at halftime.
“We reminded the offense to get their heads into the game and do their best,” said junior cornerback Kui‘lua Mortensen, who had one of the picks. Suwaiter Poch and Tyler Mahoe had the others.
Atuekaho got off to an inauspicious start.
The junior’s first pass was intercepted and returned 50 yards for a touchdown by Nicky Palleschi as HPA took a 10-2 lead.
But the quarterback got progressively better from there.
“My team brought me back up,” Atuekaho said. “They told me to keep my head up and move on to the next play.”
His first completion covered 15 yards to Jeffrey Kono and sparked a 10-play, 60 yard drive, which Aven Kualii capped with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The two-point conversion failed, but after Hilo’s harassing defense held, Atuekaho hooked up for 20 yards with Donavan Kelley, who played quarterback in the first half and tried one pass, and Kono for 18 more on the next drive to set up Takayesu’s go-ahead field goal.
“Those completions helped us build momentum, and we were able to use it in the second half,” Baldwin said. “I think we created a better sense of urgency defensively in the second half.”
The windy day in Waimea seemingly played right into the hands of HPA, which features a bruising run game led by standout workhorse Bobby Lum.
But the Vikings’ defense was up to the challenge.
Lum compiled only 22 yards on 10 carries in the second half, and was held to 62 for the game.
“I’m pretty sure they watched film and saw some bad things on us and wanted to take advantage of it,” Mortensen said.
“Buy our front seven is really good.”
All of Ellis’ completions went to Kellen Gillins, but the junior was sacked six times, finishing 7 of 16 for 84 yards.
The Ka Makani were hurt by 10 penalties.
Hilo 0 0 8 10 — 18
HPA 3 0 7 0 — 10
HPA – Justin Perry 32 FG, 7:12
Hilo – Safety, punter kicks ball out of end zone, 10:25
HPA – Nicky Palleschi 50 interception return (Perry kick), 6:51
Hilo – Aven Kualii 3 run (pass failed), 5:04
Hilo – Rayce Takayesu 27 FG, 11:02
Hilo – Tristin Spikes 33 run (Takayesu kick), 3:32