KEALAKEKUA — If there’s a team that knows about learning from its losses, it’s Konawaena.
Last year, the Wildcats ended up 0-2 after their preseason slate, falling to Saint Francis (ILH) and Kapaa (KIF). Konawaena dropped off the radar of many as a team that could compete for a state title. Nonetheless, they went to work learning from the early defeats, focused on the teachable moments.
The next time the Wildcats would lose came nearly three months later, and it took Lahainaluna seven overtimes in an all-time classic Division II state title game to finally put Konawaena away.
So when head coach Brad Uemoto called taking a game against perennial powerhouse Kahuku one of the best decisions he’s made with the program, it made some sense.
Yes, Uemoto saw the 61-9 final score. But from the start, the game was never about the scoreboard. Konawaena took on the unheard of task of being a Division II team traveling to the North Shore of Oahu to get insight on how a top-tier program functions — both on the field and off of it.
“We came away from that game with a lot of optimism,” Uemoto said during a rainy practice on Tuesday. “I think both our players and staff learned a lot. In the end, the result and experience was unbelievable.”
Defensive back Boaz Ayers echoed his coaches sentiments.
“It was great,” Ayers said. “It gave us a look at what’s out there and what that top level of competition is like.”
The Wildcats had their share of highlights on the field against the Red Raiders, who have been the elite Open Division runner-up two years in a row and have won eight state titles since the state championship era began in 1999 — the most recent coming in 2015.
Premier among those moments was the first career touchdown pass for freshman quarterback Sheynen Nahale. He found Hunter Wehrsig on a 29-yard pass in the second quarter to put the Wildcats on the board.
Nahale ended up throwing a whopping 49 times in his debut — a feat not totally unheard of by Wildcat QBs (last year’s starter Austin Ewing tossed a combined 106 passes in the team’s two preseason games).
However, the number of attempts was dictated by what the Kahuku defense was giving Konawaena. The Wildcats finished with negative rushing yards, unable to penetrate a stacked Red Raider front.
“They were in a five-man front, seven-man box and we were just outmatched,” Uemoto said. “We tried to run it a few times to keep them honest, but we couldn’t establish a ground game.”
Nahale finished the game 19 of 49 for 236 yards with a touchdown and interception. There was a chance for more, too, but the Wildcats were turned away from inside the 5-yard line and a 50-yard connection between Nahale and Wehrsig was negated by an offensive pass interference call.
“I’d like to say I was surprised by some of the performances, but we have high expectations for these kids,” Uemoto said. “Sheynen did a great job playing against arguably the best defense in the state. Jesse Canda (5 catches, 68 yards) played an unbelievable game with big catches over the middle and on kick returns. I think almost everyone exceeded expectations.”
One of the most important stats Uemoto pointed out was a single sack allowed by the offensive line. That’s no small task against a team that features potential Division I college talent at almost every position, including a pair of towering defensive ends in Tausili Fiato (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) and Tuia Tupuola (6-4, 230).
“The game ball went to the offensive line, for sure,” Uemoto said.
It’s also safe to say Konawaena left an impression on their hosts for taking up the challenge.
“Konawaena’s a great team. You can see why they’re one of the top dogs in D-II,” Kahuku head coach Sterling Carvalho told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We hope their whole program continues to get better. We’ll be rooting for them.”
Another victory in the game was leaving Carleton Weimer Field with no significant injuries, which will help this week as Konawaena hosts Kapaa. The Warriors (0-1) dropped their opener last weekend to two-time defending D-II state champions, Lahainaluna.
Konawaena and Kapaa faced off last season, with the Warriors pulling out a 26-13 win.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how disciplined of a team Kapaa is,” Uemoto said. “That’s what makes them such a solid opponent. They won’t beat themselves.”
Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. at Julian Yates Field.
Kealakehe puts the pieces together against Pearl City
The Waveriders’ debut was a little like assembling a puzzle.
Like many teams around the state, Kealakehe was missing some pieces against Pearl City, but the Waveriders grinded out a 33-20 win despite lacking depth.
It was the Waveriders’ first win in an opener since 2015, when the BIIF squad wiped out Maui at War Memorial Stadium 28-7.
The Chargers did not go down without a fight. After a 7-0 halftime score in favor of the ‘Riders, the final two quarters featured six lead changes.
When asked about the notion of getting the opening game “monkey off the back,” head coach Sam Kekuaokalani could only laugh.
“We just wanted to get better from this game,” he said. “The boys kept fighting back and that’s a credit to them.”
With a ground and pound approach, Kealakehe ran behind its big offensive line for almost 250 yards.
Kainakoa Broadfoot (8 carries, 65 yards) got the lion’s share of the work early, but he exited with an injury in the first quarter to thin out an already depleted backfield. Duwayne Johnson was the rock for the Waveriders the rest of the way, racking up 87 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Boo Jones and quarterback Jorden Himalaya added 81 yards on 21 combined carries.
“We were trying to put it together on the fly,” Kekuaoklani said. “We knew we didn’t have depth coming in and had to make adjustments. I told the boys it was really going to come down to handling the challenges in the moment, and they did just that. They listened and believed.”
Himalaya saw all the reps at quarterback, and ended up with a solid stat line despite a slow start. The senior came out 3 of 9 for 26 yards, but three long second half completions helped boost his final stat line to a healthy 10 of 16 for 156 yards with three scores and no interceptions.
Those long bombs went to Kalani Piltz, who finished with 131 yards and two touchdowns, including a highlight reel 50-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
“Piltz wanted those. That’s all him,” Kekuaokalani said. “He made some great plays.”
Kealakehe is off until its BIIF opener next week against Konawaena on Aug. 24. After that, the Waveriders head to the mainland to take on Desert Hills in Utah.
North Hawaii squads Honokaa and Hawaii Prep get their seasons underway this weekend.
Under third-year head coach Noeau Lindsey, the Dragons will take on KIF opponent Waimea. It is also the first game for the Menehune of Kauai.
Honokaa is eager to get going after a preseason game against Waiakea was converted into a controlled scrimmage last week. It also seems unlikely that the Dragons’ trip to Molokai to take on the Farmers will happen on Aug. 17, so this is potentially the only game Honokaa will have to work out the kinks before the BIIF season starts against Waiakea on the road Sept. 1.
First-year Hawaii Prep head coach Albert Cummings — a former assistant at Honokaa — gets his Ka Makani going against visiting Maui squad King Kekaulike on Saturday. It’s a noon kickoff in Waimea.
The game against Na Alii is the only one before BIIF play starts for Ka Makani on Aug. 31 against defending Division I state champion Hilo.