Thursday | November 23, 2017
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BIIF Division II football championship: Wildcats revved up and ready to go for title game

KEALAKEKUA — Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto doesn’t need a lot words to describe how the last few weeks have felt leading up to Friday night’s BIIF title game against Kamehameha.

“Long,” Uemoto said with a laugh.

The Wildcats have been off since beating the Warriors on Oct. 7, a side effect of Hawaii Prep forfeiting its final game of the season and built-in bye week.

With a third consecutive title on the line, Konawaena gets to go back to work at 7 p.m. at Julian Yates Field, although the last few weeks have been anything but a vacation for the Wildcats.

“We suited up for the three weeks of practice and went at it,” Uemoto said.

The layoff was similar to the one Konawaena faced a year ago heading into the HHSAA semifinals against Lahainaluna. That experience — which ultimately resulted in a 28-14 loss to the Lunas — turned into a lesson learned for Uemoto and his staff, opting to stay a bit more active in the down time this time around and keeping the intensity up.

“The music has been blaring at practice and the guys have been having a good time,” Uemoto said.

It’s probably a good decision, because if past matchups are any indication, the Wildcats can’t afford anytime to shake off the rust with the rival Warriors in town.

The squads have combined for all but one of the league’s D-II titles since 2005 and have faced off in the last three BIIF championship games. Konawaena won the regular season matchup 13-12 and knocked off the Warriors in last year’s championship thriller — which came down to a goal line stand in the closing seconds — 27-23.

“When we play them, it’s always a battle,” Uemoto said. “Seeing them for a second time this season, it becomes a game of adjustments and what wrinkles we both came up with after the last game.”

While most teams would want to destroy the film of the last time the team’s met — which included a number of mistakes, miscues and turnovers — the Wildcats have embraced the opportunity to improve. It’s something that couldn’t be done on many occasions this year during an undefeated BIIF campaign, with the Wildcats winning their previous five BIIF contests by an average of 34.4 points.

“I always look at the glass half-full,” Uemoto said. “Like I’ve said before, wins and lopsided results can cover up things you need to improve. We can turn on that film and pick out a ton of different things on what we can get better at.”

From a historical standpoint, it’s not lost on the team what’s at stake Friday night, especially Uemoto, a former All-BIIF wide receiver at Konawaena. With a win, the Wildcats would capture their second BIIF three-peat in the last seven years, the lone gap being Kamehameha’s title in 2014.

The stretch isn’t unprecedented for the program with a wealth of history, but it’s undoubtedly impressive, especially considering the Wildcats last era of such dominance came when there was only one school in West Hawaii.

“I grew up watching Konawaena’s 11-year streak, where losing games was rare. I think the expectations were similar to how they are now,” Uemoto said. “But now, we don’t have the same flow of talent we had in the 80s and you can’t beat up on a league like before. It’s challenging, so it’s really rewarding to be on the verge of something like that.”

The BIIF champion should have a grip on the No. 2 seed in the state tournament, with defending champions Lahainaluna likely the No. 1 seed. That would bring either the ILH or OIA represenatives to the Big Isle, although nothing is certain until the HHSAA announces the offical seeding for the four-team tourney.

“The BIIF has been on the rise in terms of how we have been playing in that tournament,” Uemoto said. “Plus, I don’t think there is anything like playing in the outerisland atmosphere. The stands are always packed.”

 

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