Seth Fukushima doesn’t throw, run or catch the football, but he was an offensive star for Hilo, which didn’t look too far off from last season’s championship form.
The junior left tackle had, perhaps, the toughest assignment on Saturday night, blocking Hawaii Prep’s Nicky Palleschi, a potential Division I college recruit, one-on-one with no help.
Palleschi, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior, also plays tight end/wide receiver, but his future at the next level figures to be on defense because he’s got a ferocious pass rush and a frame that could add a lot more bulk.
Fukushima was sometimes pushed backward, but the 5-10, 260-pound junior kept his balance and hands anchored on Palleschi, who moved around and also faced Hilo senior right tackle Kacey Hall.
Palleschi recorded no sacks, tackles for loss or any solo tackles, a quiet night going against Fukushima, who played on the junior varsity last year, for the most part, and Hall, an all-league honorable mention pick.
Behind that fundamentally sound line play, Hilo walloped turnover-prone HPA 45-15 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season-opener for both schools at Wong Stadium, scoring four touchdowns off giveaways.
“We had to focus on Nicky because he’s their key defensive player. We had to shut him down in order for our offense to score,” said Fukushima, who also throws the shot put and discus for Hilo’s track and field team. “I had to suck it up to play against him. I had to stay low and keep my leverage against him. We tried to get the ball away from him. He’s a big playmaker on defense.”
The young Division II Ka Makani (0-1) dearly miss running back Bobby Lum (now at Southern Oregon), who racked up 1,244 yards and was known as a YAC (yards after contact) bulldozer.
The private-school visitors from Waimea rushed for 80 yards on 30 carries, a 2.7-yard-per-carry average. Alex Brost led the way with 33 yards on eight attempts while Caleb Kagawa had 33 yards on nine carries.
Like Palleschi, Fukushima is also a two-way player and starts at defensive end. The tough-nosed Viking had one of his defense’s two sacks; HPA had no sacks.
“That was the first sack of the season, so you’ve got to celebrate,” Fukushima said. “The main thing was keeping contain on the perimeter then the linebackers would take care of the rest.”
The Vikings played sound assignment football on defense. No one overshot their gaps. When they gave up medium-sized runs, it was between the tackles, never surrendering any long gains on the edges — a sign that they funneled everything inside.
HPA couldn’t find a ground attack, but at least senior quarterback Koa Ellis is back. He’s also a pitcher/shortstop on the school’s baseball team, so his accuracy is pretty good. He went 16 of 25 for 156 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Division I Vikings (1-0), especially with smart and savvy play-calling from coach Dave Baldwin and his staff, took advantage of Palleschi’s aggressive rushes from the perimeter, cutting their ball-carriers inside when he over-ran a play.
Tristin Spikes showed why he was the BIIF Division I co-offensive player of the year last season. He zipped around defenders for 94 yards on 15 attempts, a healthy 6.3-yard average. In mop-up time, Isaac Lerma added 53 yards on five carries for Hilo, which ran for 181 yards on 31 attempts.
“Tristin is a beast and he helps us out so much,” Fukushima said. “He’s a naturally good athlete. He pounds the ball, and has a lot of heart, too.”
Viking senior quarterback Sione Atuekaho didn’t connect frequently, but he made his completions count. He was 6 of 14 for 97 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Atuekaho rushed for nine yards on three carries, scoring on a 9-yard run and accounting for four TDs.
The home team had zero turnovers while HPA had five and got scored on each time off a free gift.
In the first quarter, the Ka Makani fumbled, and six plays later Spikes scored on a 30-yard run when Palleschi got into the backfield, but the senior running back shot through the other gap.
Atuekaho scored his 9-yard run in the second quarter after Dallas Mata picked off Ellis for a 14-0 lead.
Then Ellis escaped from a potential sack and threw a 5-yard scoring strike to Palleschi, but after that HPA fumbled two consecutive times on kickoff returns, and the Vikings scored.
After Atuekaho fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cohlby Espaniola for a 21-7 lead, HPA fumbled the kickoff return. Two plays later, Espaniola scored again when he beat double coverage on a 15-yard corner route.
Then to the shock of the traveling Ka Makani fans, there was another fumble with 11 seconds until halftime. On the first play from scrimmage, someone forgot to cover Spikes, who took a swing pass from Atuekaho and stormed to the end zone from 29 yards out for a 35-7 cushion.
That was a second quarter to remember for Hilo and one to forget for HPA: four Viking touchdowns, including three off turnovers and two back-to-back.
In the third quarter, Haili Mahoe picked off Ellis at the 1-yard line and bolted down the sideline for a 99-yard pick-six and a 42-7 lead.
After HPA fumbled again for its fifth turnover, five plays later Rayce Takayesu booted a 36-yard field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Vikings had their backups in and quarterback Nainoa Kawailima was sacked in the end zone for a Ka Makani safety.
With no time showing on the clock, Ellis threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Palleschi, who had 13 catches for 117 yards.
Even though he shined like a star, Fukushima most appreciated the team effort.
“What I like is this team is not about one person. It’s everybody who’s doing it this year,” he said.
HPA 0 7 0 8 — 15
Hilo 7 28 10 0 — 45
Hilo — Tristin Spikes 30 run (Rayce Takayesu kick), 3:00
Hilo — Sione Atuekaho 9 run (Takayesu kick), 9:45
HPA — Nicky Palleschi 5 pass from Koa Ellis (Alex Brost kick), 1:56
Hilo — Cohlby Espaniola 13 pass from Atuekaho (Takayesu kick), :38
Hilo — Espaniola 15 pass from Atuekaho (Takayesu kick), :18
Hilo — Spikes 29 pass from Atuekaho (Takayesu kick), 0:00
Hilo — Haili Mahoe 99 interception (Takayesu kick), 6:39
Hilo — FG 36 Takayesu, 1:19
HPA — Safety (QB tackled in end zone), 2:34
HPA — Palleschi 25 pass from Ellis, 0:00