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BIIF football Division I championship: Hilo looking to take their fifth

It wasn’t boasting, and it wasn’t said with malice. It was strictly matter of fact.

Asked a few weeks ago to look ahead to Hilo’s regular-season finale against Kealakehe, one Vikings player described the Waveriders as “just another team.”

A handful of years ago, those words would have been dismissed as pure foolishness.

Few of Hilo’s players might be able remember, but the Vikings started a dynastic stretch in which they’ve won four consecutive BIIF Division I titles by dedicating an entire season to catching up and surpassing Kealakehe.

The view from the top is nice and all, but Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo is always looking upward, so he’s certainly not looking down on the Waveriders, who will be back at Wong Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday for the championship game in search of their first title since 2012.

“I think we’re improving, but your only as good as your last game,” said Drummondo, referring to a 42-29 victory against Kealakehe at Wong, which in his point of view was equal parts sloppy and choppy with a near-flawless third quarter mixed in.

“Too many mistakes and too many errors. You can’t win a title if you give up a kickoff return,” he said.

Tied Oct. 7 after a first half that included Bryton Lewi’s 90-yard return for a score, Drummondo finally witnessed the execution he demands as Hilo (6-1 BIIF, 7-1) rode its bell cow, Kahale Huddleston, who dashed for three third-quarter touchdowns and amassed 195 of his 247 rushing yards in the second half.

“I think we can be a lot better,” Drummondo said. “A lot of it is fundamentals and not slipping up a few plays.”

After the first meeting, Waveriders coach Sam Kekuaokalani could only chuckle talking about Huddleston’s third quarter rampage, which was just the latest in a long line of predicaments, on and off the field, for Kealakehe this season.

“Despite all the distractions, we really have been able to amazingly stay together,” Kekuaokalani said. “That’s a credit to the young men and how they really have been able to stay together. All 42 of them.

“Because of it, here we are.”

Again – after a one-year break, Kealakehe (4-3, 4-6) plays for a title for the 15th time and 16 seasons, though not many seasons have played out quite like this one.

The Waveriders lost one assistant to a resignation after a postgame confrontation, an incident that prompted Kealakehe’s principal to write a letter to players, parents and supporters reminding them Kekuaokalani has full discretion about playing time.

In addition, Kealakehe took the field two weeks ago at Wong minus both of its coordinator (one was attending to a family matter and the other relocated). The defense figures to get a boost now that defensive coordinator Aisea Tremaine has had more time in his new role.

The trying season “really does make us stronger and it makes us better,” Kekuaokalani said. “Adversity, it does build you, but it also reveals who you are.”

Many of Hilo’s players were around in 2015 when they went through adversity after coach David Baldwin was forced to leave the program before the start of the season. Drummondo, the former defensive coordinator, took over and the Vikings rebounded from a loss to the Waveriders that cost them home field, then rallied together, got on a bus and won at Kealakehe in the title game.

The Waveriders will attempt to push through in similar fashion Saturday.

“I believe it will be somewhat similar,” Kekuaokalani said, “however, every year is different.”

“The goal (in 2015) was to bring the championship game to Kealakehe,” he said. “That was the goal.

“I needed to be more specific. Instead if bringing (the game) back, I should have said to win it.”

To do so this time around, Kealakehe not only wants to try and get a better handle on Huddleston – who has accounted for a ridiculous 30 touchdowns this season – but also do better in the turnover battle.

The Waveriders committed all three turnovers in the first meeting, making the score respectable thanks to a spark from fill-in quarterback Anthony “Head” Trevino, who led all three touchdown drives, two in the fourth quarter, hooking up with Kalani Piltz and Koari’i Atkinson-Sioloa for big plays.

“I think they did typically what they always have done against us,” Drummondo said. “They put Trevino in at quarterback and he made plays and he extended plays. We have coverage breakdowns and he was able to capitalize.”

Hilo’s secondary could be more vulnerable in the title game with emerging senior cornerback Micah Bello away at a baseball showcase. The Vikings also have lost defensive lineman Austin Younce to a broken leg.

Since absorbing its only loss Sept. 15 at Konawaena, Hilo has settled on two-way standout Kaleo Apao at quarterback. Operating the the read option, he gives the Vikings another big-play threat in the backfield in the running game, and Apao has developed chemistry with a fleet of wide receivers that includes Kainalu Tiogangco, Makana Kanehailua and Guyson Ogata.

“It’s winner go home,” Drummondo said. “We don’t need to remind them to put it all on the field and play tough.”


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