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High school football: Wildcats face tough early test against Kapaa

KEALAKEKUA — The preseason has been anything but an exhibition for Konawaena in recent years.

Instead, games against some vaunted competition have served as an early measuring stick for the BIIF powerhouse, which has won five of the last six D-II league titles and has long had its sights set on a state championship.

Another expectation-laden season begins for the Wildcats on Saturday with a trip to Kauai to take on Kapaa, providing further evidence of the team’s reputation of not shying away from tough, early tests.

“We don’t mind playing good teams, taking our wins or losses, and learning from the experiences,” Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto said. “The end goal is to be playing our best football at the right time — at the end of the year, when it matters.”

Konawaena has been a preseason juggernaut of late, with the team’s last loss coming in 2013. In the past three seasons, Konawaena owns a perfect 4-0 record in non-league preseason games, sweeping a pair of home-away series against both Kauai and Saint Francis.

But a green-on-green battle against the Garden Isle Warriors will be an entirely different beast for the Wildcats.

Kapaa has garnered the top seed in the D-II state tournament the past two seasons, resulting in a pair of runner-up finishes. During that time, the Warriors have never crossed paths with the Wildcats, at least directly. Both years the team that beat Konawaena in the semis — Radford in 2015 and Lahainaluna in ’16 — bested Kapaa in the state title game.

The Warriors (1-0) opened this season with a victory, cruising to a 24-7 over Maui High at War Memorial Stadium last weekend.

“I think this is a game a lot of people have been longing to see,” Uemoto said. “We finally got a chance to make it happen, so we are looking forward to it.”

For many of the Wildcats, finally seeing Kapaa’s green jerseys on the other side of the ball feels like a long-time coming.

“We are excited to be playing against a team that has made it so far the past two seasons and really set the bar for where we want to be,” Konawaena linebacker Seau Amor said. “It’s been a long offseason, so we are all ready to get going.”

Unfortunately, it will not be a potential preview of a state tournament game, with the KIF sending its champion from its three-team league to the Division I bracket. Regardless, there will be plenty of takeaways for the 2017 edition of the Wildcats coming out of the gate.

Leading the way for Konawaena will be senior quarterback and two-time BIIF D-II offensive player of the year, Austin Ewing. With the graduation of All-BIIF picks Kamakana Ching and Austin Aukai — among others — he will be tossing the ball to an almost entirely new set of receivers.

Ewing understands the test that Kapaa presents, but echoed his coach’s sentiments when it comes to the value of preseason action.

“It’s awesome to see where you stand and what you have to work on before the season even starts,” Ewing said. “This weekend, we just want to play out best game, be able to look at that film when we get back and see where we can improve so we can be peaking at the right time.”

Saturday’s games

Honokaa at Waiakea, after 11 a.m. JV

Hilo at Iolani, 1 p.m.

Maui at Kamehameha, after 5 p.m. JV

Damien at Kealakehe, 6 p.m.

Konawaena at Kapaa, 7 p.m.

Eight-man

Pahoa at Molokai, 11 a.m.

 

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