Hilo High’s football team has been off the grid but not out of work.
After a 12-week grind that doubled as an indomitable march through the BIIF, the Vikings spent the past two weeks both pumping up and resting up.
“We’ve spent a little more time in the weight room and a little less time then normal on the field,” coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “The time off has been good to help get bodies refreshed.”
This week, it’s back to business
Seeking its third consecutive berth in the HHSAA Division I championship game, top-seeded Hilo (12-0) takes on Leilehua at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wong Stadium. The OIA runner-up Mules (10-2) punched their ticket to the semifinals with a 34-7 victory against Baldwin last Friday on Maui.
“Leilehua is a big physical team with a handful of very good playmakers,” Drummondo said. “They’ll present challenges that we have to be prepared for.
“It seems like offensively they like their physical downhill run game and the running back is a tough downhill runner.”
Preparation-wise, he’s had plenty of time to study up on the Mules. The Leilehua-Baldwin pairing was announced minutes after Hilo beat Konawaena 42-18 on Nov. 2 to win their seventh consecutive league title.
The Mules’ Jemell Vereen ran for 174 and a touchdown on 28 carries in the win over the Bears, and afterward he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that early-week film study of the Vikings would be key.
“Uhh, I haven’t watched Hilo yet,” Vereen said.
“I think (Baldwin) stacked the box, but we picked up the right blocks to give me open holes, and the receivers blocked the linebackers so I could get free a little bit,” he said.
Kalei Akagi was Leilehua’s game-breaker on the Valley Island. On the first snap from scrimmage, he zoomed around left end on a reverse for a 72-yard touchdown
“During film sessions, Coach ‘Drew (Andrew Manley) said the ‘backers fly around, they blitz super hard, so all our stuff will work,” Akagi said.
Akagi also came up with a 91-yard kick return for a score to break a 7-7 tie, and Julyan Mebane took an interception back 85 yards for a score as the Mules pulled away in the second half.
Baldwin finished with just 231 yards of offense, and on the season Leilehua allows just a shade more than 200 per game.
“Defensively, they’re big upfront and cause a lot of issues with their pass rushers,” Drummondo said. “We’ll have to communicate well and be stout upfront.
“We are expecting a good physical football game.”
The other semifinal Saturday night matches No. 2 Iolani at No. 3 Moanalua, the champs of the OIA and ILH, respectively. Both of Leilehua’s losses came against Moanalua by a combined five points, including a 21-20 loss Oct. 26 in the OIA title game at Aloha Stadium.
The Vikings and Mules last met in a 2016 state first-round game. Hilo lost 26-25 at Keaau High but has lost only two games since.
Editor’s note: Tribune News Service contributed to this report