KAILUA-KONA — As hard as it might be to admit, Kealakehe knows they are not destined for the BIIF postseason this year, with Hilo (8-0) and Konawaena (7-1) already locking up their spots in the Division I title game.
But despite that, the Waveriders have shown up to work, ready to grind day after day.
Kealakehe’s (5-3) latest conquest was an overwhelming 42-6 win over Honokaa, which featured a hefty serving of big plays and a physical performance from the Waverider defense.
The afternoon after the Thursday night win against the Dragons, Kealakehe was back on the practice field, utilizing the long week to prepare for a final meeting against Hilo.
The rivals — who have combined for all but one of the league’s D-I titles since classification began in 2003 — will clash on Saturday, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.
For first-year Waverider head coach Wyatt Nahale, seeing his squad playing and practicing inspired late in the year puts a smile on his face and gives him hope for the future.
“When you play Hilo, you have to cross your t’s and dot your i’s,” Nahale said. “All of our players showed up to practice, ready to go. They have continued to work hard and as a first-year head coach, I take a lot of pride in that.”
The Waveriders playing host to Hilo is a bit overdue. They were slated to meet up in the second week of the season at Waverider Stadium, but an issue with the lights forced a move to Wong Stadium.
“It’s always nice to have the comforts of a home game and our fans behind us,” Nahale said. “We are looking forward to it.”
The Waverider lost the first matchup 51-21, but the three touchdowns were the most Hilo has given up in a game this season. In fact, the Viks have given up just 16 points in their eight other games combined, shutting out six of their opponents.
“Looking back at that first game, we were coming off of a loss and the kids wanted to bounce back,” Nahale said. “They showed a lot of good things in that game with a great effort against an excellent team in Hilo.”
Waverider running back Elijah Kahele collected 114 total yards in that matchup, which is no easy task against the fast and physical Hilo unit.
Kahele has always been a terrific playmaker, which made him an All-BIIF pick as a sophomore. But Kahele has been running with more confidence as of late, which was especially evident against Honokaa. On one punt return, he left multiple Dragons in his wake and scampered all over the field on the way to the end zone in an impressive showing of athleticism — although the play would eventually be called back due to a penalty.
“He’s been more vocal. In the locker room he’s a leader and really a different person from the start of the season,” Nahale said of his junior back. “His confidence is through the roof and when he steps on the field he brings that with him.”
Nahale also credited the progression of senior defensive back Zane Martin, who is seemingly everywhere on the field during the game making plays.
“He just plays at full speed every single play,” Nahale said. “He’s improved all season and he’s really what makes our defense go.”
The key for the Waveriders will be limiting big plays from the Hilo offense. The Vikings scored four touchdowns that went for 70-plus yards in the last matchup, leading to a season-best stat line from quarterback Kyan Miyasato. The senior QB completed just 11 passes for 446 yards and four touchdowns — good for a whopping 40.5 yard per completion. For the season, he’s recorded 1,650 yards and 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Hilo — the six-time defending D-I BIIF champ — is the No. 6 ranked team in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s poll, sitting only behind Open Division squads. The Vikings have the inside route to home field in the postseason for the championship game against the Wildcats, having won the first matchup 43-0. Hilo would have to lose by the same amount or more to risk losing their grasp on the home edge.
Honokaa (2-6) at Konawaena (7-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats play host the Dragons, who they beat 60-0 the first time around on Aug. 30 — their most lopsided win of the season. Konawaena has outscored its last three opponents 123-7 and will look to maintain their form heading into a pair of matchups with Hilo to close out the year.
Honokaa has beat Waiakea twice this season, but have just four offensive scores outside of those games to show this season.
Keaau (2-6) at Waiakea (0-8), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Time is running on for Waiakea to get their first win of the season and a matchup against a 2-6 Keaau squad might be their last shot with a matchup with Kealakehe lurking as a season finale.
The Cougars have not score a point in three weeks and will be hungry to add a tally to the win column. Keaau won the first matchup 52-14.
Kamehameha (6-0) at Kohala, Saturday, 1 p.m.
The Warriors will look to stretch their undefeated streak against BIIF opponents to 7-0 and recharge from a 54-0 non-league loss to Kapaa on Kauai last week. Kamehameha blanked Kohala the first time out, 44-0.
Ka‘u (2-4) vs. Pahoa (0-7), Saturday, 11 a.m.
There have been some growing pain from the Daggers in the transition to the 11-man game, but they had their best showing of the year in a narrow 24-14 loss to Kohala last week. The Trojans can finish with a .500 record if they notch wins in their final two games.