KEALAKEKUA — Before Kamehameha defensive back Noah Carvalho got into his pair of interception return touchdowns against Konawaena, he was quick to point out that he wasn’t perfect.
On Konawaena’s first score of the game, Carvalho was beat on a route that put the Wildcats up 7-0 — an 11-yard touchdown snag by Marc Basa from quarterback Sheynen Nahale.
But instead of dwelling on his mistake, the senior defense back learned from it.
The next time the Wildcats ran that route, Carvalho was the one in the end zone, returning an interception 91 yards and providing a giant spark in the Warriors thrilling 28-20 victory over their BIIF Division II rival.
“When I lined up, I saw the same guy and knew where he was going. I wasn’t going to let him do it again,” Carvalho said with a laugh. “This win was important for us. The past few years we had been losing close games, so it feels good to break through.”
The victory ended Kamehameha’s five-game skid against Konawaena, which included three D-II title game losses. It also halted the Wildcats’ 19-game winning streak against Big Island opponents, which dated back to Week 1 of 2016.
Along with Carvalho’s pair of pick-sixes, Kilohana Haasenritter also returned an interception for a score and quarterback Kaimi Like connected with Isaiah Anahu on a 67-yard catch and run to deliver a series of haymakers during a six minute stretch in the second half where the Warriors scored all of their points.
The locker room was lively after the win, and the chant of “Warriors” could be heard from the field long after the stands had cleared out. Kamehameha junior Wilde Germano could barely contain the smile on his face with the cheers from his teammates serving as the soundtrack to his interview.
“We really wanted this win,” Germano said. “This is a small team but we are all brothers. We knew we could do this.”
With two games left in the regular season before the Warriors and Wildcats clash for the D-II title, Kamehameha head coach Dan Lyons was not putting too much emphasis on the breakthrough. As he pointed out, there’s still work to be done if his team wants to retain the inside track on home field for the championship they earned with the win.
“I know it’s going to sound like coach speak, but this is just part of the season for us. We’ve got Waiakea this coming Saturday, Hilo after that, and then the championship game,” he said. “We have aspirations to do something in the postseason, so this is just one game for us.”
His players echoed that sentiment, adding that championships are not won in the regular season.
“We can’t be complacent and settle,” Carvalho said. “We know Konawaena is going to come back with extra fire now.”
Lyons acknowledged the metaphorical monkey on the team’s back that had been hanging around the last few seasons. Kamehameha’s eight turnovers almost let that monkey keep it’s grip a little longer.
“I think we have felt like the better team the last few years, but we have always done things to beat ourselves,” Lyons said. “We tried to shoot ourselves in the foot again and made it tough. We gave them a ton of opportunities, but it was still only 7-0 in the first half. I think that shows how well our defense played.”
Lyons said the team installed a new defense just two weeks ago, not wanting a defensive debacle like what happened in the team’s 49-42 loss to Kealakehe on Sept. 7. The new scheme moved some players around, changed responsibilities and — so far — has proved to be a difference maker.
“I thought our defense was terrific,” Lyons said. “We gave up one drive where they pounded the ball on us, but that was just some assignment stuff on our end.”
While the turnovers were huge, what Lyons pointed to as a game changer was a 4th-and-inches stop at the end of a wild first half.
Konawaena lined up in a centipede formation, with 10 players in single file behind center in an effort to confuse the defense. Before the ball was snapped, everyone shifted into a normal formation, but the Warriors were ready regardless, stuffing the ball carrier for a loss.
“In my opinion, that stop changed the game. We were able to blow that thing up,” Lyons said. “It was huge for us and we could feel that on the sideline. When you are able to stop a play like that, it really feels like you have prepared for everything.”
But the story of the game was turnovers — for both squads.
Playing on a very muddy Julian Yates Field, the Warriors lost five fumbles and tossed three interceptions. Konawaena had six turnovers of their own. The wet weather might have played a factor, but at least a few of the Warriors were enjoying it.
“Living in Hilo, we know how to play in the rain,” Germano said. “This was just backyard football, splashing around in the mud. I loved it.”
With the win, the Warriors are in the driver’s seat when it comes to hosting the D-II title game on either Oct. 26 or 27, although the final two games of the season for both squads will have an impact. But if it holds, that would move the game from the mud to the turf of Paiea Stadium.
“Whether it’s psychological or real, I don’t know. Fast guys are faster on turf than slow guys. And fast guys are faster than slow guys on a muddy field,” Lyons said. “We like playing at our place. But no matter where we end up playing them, it’s almost always a competitive, close game.”
There was a tiny silver lining for Konawaena. After the 28-point outburst by Kamehameha, the Wildcats did not give up. Cyrus Jumalon scored on a short touchdown run after a long kick return put the Wildcats in scoring position, and a TD pass from Nahale to Basa — their second of the night — made it a one score game.
In the end, Konawaena came up just short, but the Wildcats did come away with something to build on.
“They didn’t quit. That’s what we preach,” Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto said. “We were in a hole and they never quit on trying to climb out of it. I think that will relate to something in terms of our season. We are still in the title game and are not going to quit.”
Konawaena’s defensive front played a tremendous game, allowing less than 200 yards of total offense to Kamehameha. That included limiting Haasenritter — who has three 150-yard-plus rushing games this season — to almost no offense yardage.
“We beat ourselves,” Uemoto said. “Not to take anything away from what Kamehameha did. They made plays. But it’s hard to lose when our defense plays that well.”
Just under a year removed from playing in a seven-overtime state title game in Aloha Stadium, Uemoto and his staff aren’t rookies when it comes to postseason play. He’s optimistic that there’s room for improvement for his Wildcats and that the team can be peaking when it matters most — in win or go home situations.
“That’s when you want to play your best football,” Uemoto said. “I’m an optimistic person, so we will continue to bend this thing in the positive direction.”