KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe is proving it can deliver both by air and by ground.
The improved passing game has been well documented this season for the Waveriders, with quarterback Jorden Himalaya racking up the yards and touchdowns as one of the top passers in the BIIF in Kealakehe’s up-tempo system.
But in the team’s most recent success over the weekend — a 43-12 victory over Keaau (1-4) — the Waveriders showed their most balanced look yet, using a trio of talented backs to erase an early deficit, rack up nearly 200 yards rushing and rumble to the verge of a BIIF Division I title game berth.
Kealakehe (3-1) fell behind to the Cougars early on homecoming night before utilizing a six-pack of touchdowns — three passing and three rushing — to secure the victory.
“We expected Keaau to come out and play us tough, but we just told the boys to stay focused. The offense knew that it was only a matter of time before they found their rhythm,” Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani said. “They were ready to go and get to it.”
Elijah Kahele (66 yards), Raymond Skillern (44 yards) and Joshua Mangayayam (54 yards, 2 TDs) propelled the Waveriders’ triple barrel rushing attack.
“It was a major team effort,” Kahele said. “Not just us running backs. We executed well as a team.”
Skillern and Mangayayam agreed.
“The wide receivers made their blocks and the offensive line opened up the holes,” Skillern said.
“Without our O-line, we couldn’t have done it,” Mangayayam added.
Skillern has been a familiar face in the Kealakehe backfield over the last two seasons, while Mangayayam — a recently converted lineman — and Kahele are newer additions.
Skillern has shown a diverse skill set, doing a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Mangayayam brings the power around the goal line, while Kahele is more of a scatback with a solid set of hands to contribute in the passing game. The three backs have meshed nicely, creating a friendly internal competition that has proved to be a boon for the ‘Riders.
“We just go out there and do it,” Skillern said. “There’s no hard feelings about who gets carries. If one of us gets a big gain, we are cheering. Someone scores a touchdown, we are cheering.”
And carries are not just reserved for running backs. Wide receivers Boo Jones and Kalani Piltz get involved as well, usually trying to find some open space on end-around plays. Piltz — who has done his damage this year downfield with highlight reel catches — ran a score in from 11 yards out against the Cougs.
“When it’s called, it feels good to be able to help out the offense and contribute,” Piltz said.
But don’t expect to see the senior pass-catcher becoming a staple in the backfield. Piltz maintains his favorite plays are the ones where he’s out running routes, like he did on a 60-yard catch and run TD against Keaau.
“I like those plays — definitely,” Piltz said with a laugh. “We set up our shorts a lot and that give us those opportunities for those long bombs.”
It was a nice bounce back win for the Waveriders a week after Division I rival Hilo (4-0) handed the team its first league loss of the season, 45-23. Kealakehe came away from that turnover-marred performance with a new outlook on what the expectations are to win a title.
“That kind of opened our eyes. We saw that we could be beat,” Piltz said. “Taking that ‘L’ made us realize the things we needed to do better and improve on. I think we came away stronger.”
A problem the Waveriders will want to resolve this week against Waiakea (3-2) is the issue of getting off to slow starts. Against both Hilo and Keaau, Kealakehe faced early holes and have scored first in just one BIIF contest this season.
“We have had a hard time coming out and setting the tone. Against Hilo, they set the tone from the start and we weren’t able to come back,” Piltz said. “If you get off to a slow start it has a big impact in the whole game.”
Kealakehe has a chance to lock up a postseason spot by beating the Warriors on Saturday. However, a painful moment for the program happened two years ago in a similar situation, when Waiakea rose up and knocked off the Waveriders to eliminate Kealakehe from postseason play. Adding extra sting to that 2016 loss was that it was the only season the BIIF was granted two D-I HHSAA tournament berths, which went to the league champion and runner-up.
“I think we are able to put that game into proper perspective and it helps us put focus on the things we need to do to execute our plan,” Kekuaokalani said.
What has the Kealakehe skipper optimistic is the desire his group has shown to improve and go the extra mile to chase a title, something that has eluded the Waveriders since 2012.
“What makes me happy right now is that the boys have shown the ability to take direction and improve,” Kekuaokalani said. “They have that desire to get better and with that, it goes on us coaches to make sure we are prepared and stick to the game plan. We just have got to do our due diligence and be prepared every week.”