KEAAU – Hilo High’s Elijah Apao was playing out of position on defense, and his coach figured the move from corner up to linebacker initially caused Apao some discomfort.
That seemed to end when the ball found his hands. Most Vikings football player appears comfortable in that scenario.
Apao, Kaimi Tiogangco and friends were running free and clear Friday night at Keaau, putting on a clinic in big-play proficiency that left the Cougars constantly chasing from behind.
“It’s exciting I wasn’t playing my normal position,” Apao said after his two punt returns highlighted a 56-0 victory in the teams’ BIIF Division I opener. “It feels good to be out there, just making plays and executing.
“All the thanks to the man above.”
Apao and Tiogangco each parted the field three times for touchdowns, and though the lopsided score wasn’t much of a surprise, the quick-strike aspects of it were notable:
• Hilo’s average touchdown was 58.5 yards;
• It put up 395 yards of offense on just 22 plays, averaging 18 yards a pop;
• The Vikings had two-thirds as many touchdown (eight) as they did first downs (12);
• Their longest touchdown drive was three plays;
It was gamebreakers galore.
“Kind of what we talk about all the time, just getting the ball to our playmakers where the defense is allowing us,” coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “If they are playing off, we’ve got to give it to them in space and let them try and run.”
And run they did, and the Vikings’ big-play offense didn’t even include Apao.
He lined up on the right in a double-safety punt return unit opposite Guyson Ogata, and Keaau kept punting it to Apao, who took two punts back for touchdowns, the first a 95-yarder.
“We work on (punt returns) a lot in practice,” Apao said. “I guess they always kick to the right, every ball.”
It got to the point where Ogata asked him to switch sides.
Apao’s favorite play was his pick-six. He intercepted the ball near the middle of the field, veered left, then cut back to the middle.
“I was in the right position to be there, so I had to capitalize on that,” said Apao, who has scored touchdowns in all three facets of the game this season. “I just had to use my angles.”
The Vikings (2-0, 1-0 BIIF) put them to their advantage time and again.
Kyan Miyasato misfired on just one of his eight passes and threw for 200 yards, including two touchdown tosses to Tiogangco (30 and 71 yards) and another to Fiki Aguiar (50 yards).
Leading 42-0, Tiogangco came in at quarterback, made a cut near the line of scrimmage on a keeper and danced 72 yards for a score on the second play of the second half. Kilohana Haasenritter found a big hole on left side and ran for a touchdown from midfield to cap the scoring.
Don Moody added 52 yards rushing, and it could have been more if his 95-yard hadn’t been wiped out by a penalty.
“A really skilled group,” senior linebacker Kainalu Lewis said of the play-makers. “They work really hard, I love them.”
Tiogangco already has five touchdowns this season, which is one more than Apao, but who’s counting?
Certainly not Drummondo, who pays little attention to the score, much less statistics, instead harping on execution.
“We’re not coming out to win a championship right now,” he said. “We just want consistent production every week.”
Coming off a two-win season, the Cougars were playing for the first time, and they’ll have a full week of practice to try and fix the blown coverages and missed assignments that plagued them before facing Waiakea on Saturday.
Hilo can look ahead to the first of its two meeting against Kealakehe. Friday’s contest was moved to Wong Stadium because of electrical issues at Waveriders Stadium.
“We want it all (this season),” Lewis said, “we work so hard for it.”
Keaau found limited success sending quarterback Bryant Mercado-Respicio up the middle on designed power runs. The senior carried 16 times for 33 yards and was 8 of 21 for 94 yards and two interceptions – Lester Walker had the other one – against a Hilo defense that was without one it’s best players, Kalen White, who was injured.
Patrolling the edge, Lewis was among the players who switched positions to fill in for White, and sophomore Lyle Silva took over a more vocal role as the Vikings allowed just 125 yards of offense.
“Coach preaches all the time, it’s not how you win games, it’s how you practice,” Lewis said. “Practice is where you win. If you practice hard Monday through Thursday, then the game is nothing. Easy.”
Hilo 16 26 14 0 – 56
Keaau 0 0 0 0–0
Hilo: Elijah Apao 95 punt return (Trey Langacker kick)
Hilo: Kaimi Tiogangco 30 pass from Kyan Miyasato (Langacker kick)
Hilo: Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
Hilo: Fiki Aguiar 50 pass from Miyasato (kick blocked)
Hilo: Tiogangco 71 pass from Miyasato (Langacker kick)
Hilo: Apao 36 interception return (rush failed)
Hilo: Apao 66 punt return (Langacker kick)
Hilo: Tiogangco 72 run (Langacker kick)
Hilo: Haasenritter 49 run run (Langacker kick)