HHSAA football: With long wait over, Hilo tackles Leilehua for spot in title game

  • Poi Dog Photography No matter the opposition, the keys to victory for Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo are usually the same: execution, fundamentals and limiting mistakes.
  • Poi Dog Photography Hilo has spent the past three weeks preparing and resting up to try and reach its third consecutive state title game.

Study hall is over, and not a moment too soon for Hilo High.

The Vikings watched so many hours of football film of Leilehua the past three weeks they almost started to second-guess themselves for the first time all season.

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“Way too much (film),” sophomore defensive lineman Tysen Kaniaupio said.

“A ton,” coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “To the point you start to over think the game plan. At a certain point early this week, the more film you watch, you want to switch it.”

With no cramming necessary and the plan of attack locked in, Hilo can put away the film and put on the pads for their HHSAA Division I semifinal against the Mules at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wong Stadium.

The Viks seek to reach the state title game for the third consecutive season. Leilehua (10-2), the Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up who beat Baldwin 34-7 on Nov. 15 in the first round, is vying to reach the title game for the first time since 2008.

Despite leaving no stone unturned in terms of preparation, the top-seeded Vikings (12-0) do face an unknown. How will one of the most dominant teams in BIIF history fare against a bigger team from Oahu, which carries a football aura all its own?

“We know that Oahu’s competition is a lot better than our island,” senior linebacker Kalen White said. “We’re preparing a lot more serious, more technical-wise, knowing they are going to be bigger than the opponents that what we’ve faced already.”

While he was poring over film, Drummondo watched a Leilehua offense that reminded him of the one he sees everyday in practice.

“Skill-wise, it’s like looking in the mirror,” he said. “Their QB (Kekoa Turangan has thrown for 1,800-plus yards and 22 TDs with 10 interceptions) and our QB (Kyan Miyasato; 2,578 yards, 42 TDs, three picks) are very similar. They have three to four big wide receivers who are athletic like we do. They have a strong, powerful running back (Jamil Vereen has rushed for 797 yards) kind of like what Lyle (Silva) does for us.

“On the fronts, they are little bigger than we are, and they’re definitely going to try and use that to their advantage.”

The third-seeded Mules rushed for 245 yards last week at Baldwin and would like nothing better than to utilize a downhill running game on a muddy field to keep Miyasato and his plethora of playmakers on the sidelines. Vereen runs behind an offensive line that Drummondo said is easily the biggest his team has faced all season.

“It’s a guarantee that since we’re smaller than them, they are going to try and overpower us,” White said. “I’ve been studying film, finding flaws in their alignment, seeing the plays that they give away, the little things that matter.”

The Vikings allow fewer than 20 yards a game on the ground, albeit while facing smaller fronts.

“Their line is big,” Kaniaupio said, “but I think we can get them using our speed. Our speed is going to be key to get past them, and our technique, just outworking them.”

Defensively, Drummondo compared Leilehua’s size and athleticism to that of BIIF runner-up Konawaena, especially along the line. The Wildcats are also a point of reference because they are the only team so far to come close to competing against the Vikings, who still managed to win all three meeting by a combined 105 points.

Envisioning an eventual step up in the competition at the state tournament, Hilo went to Oahu over the summer and scrimmaged against two teams that compete in the open division, Campbell and Kamehameha-Kapalama. Kaniaupio called that competition “at another level.

“(The state tournament) is definitely the reason we scheduled those (scrimmages),” Drummondo said, “where we’re probably the smaller team and you have to go and figure out a way to be effective with your brand of football.

“We should be a confident group.”

Hilo handled Maui each of the past two years in the semifinals, and it’s 1-1 against OIA teams during that stretch. The Viks beat Damien 35-16 to win the 2017 state title and lost to Waipahu 42-22 in the 2018 state final.

In end, Drummondo said, the league won’t matter, just execution, fundamentals and limiting turnovers and mistakes, areas Hilo has excelled in all season in routing opponents on average at a 55-5 clip.

“You have to hand it to Leilehua,” Miyasato said. “They are good team. But we have to treat it like any other game, just more important. I’m pretty sure we’ve put the work in.”

The Vikings three-week layoff wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable and allowed Hilo the opportunity to revive and recharge itself.

“I think we did progress and it will show on Saturday night,” Kaniaupio said.

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Best of all, the long wait and tedious film study is over.

“It’s definitely been boring waiting around,’ White said. “This week we’ve been more focused on Leilehua and I think we got their game plan down,”

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