Who knew the festivities would include fireworks?
Another HHSAA Division I football semifinal conquest complete, Hilo High poured on to the field to trample in delight, then it stopped temporarily to turn around as the brief light show popped in the wet air beyond a corner of its sideline at Wong Stadium.
“I did not expect that,” senior linebacker Kainalu Lewis said. “I don’t know who did that, but it was pretty cool. On point.”
Actually, he was as responsible as anyone for the ignition.
Most of the previous crackles Saturday night came courtesy of a Vikings defense that slammed the door on Leilehua time and again in a 19-9 victory that vaulted Hilo to its third consecutive trip to the title game. One season after getting dethroned, Hilo will return to Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium to face Iolani at 4 p.m. Friday for D-I supremacy.
“It’s so hard to get back to the championship game, you have to cherish the moment,” coach Kaeo Drummondo said.
The scoreboard at Wong wasn’t working, so even as the last seconds of the game ticked down, Drummondo implored the officials to spot a first down for top-seeded Hilo (13-0). When told there were only five seconds left, he yelled again, this time exuberantly, adding a fist pump.
“This one feels so good for this group of kids,” he said. “We grinded them so hard, they responded when last year they had the heartbreak.
“A lot of them could have checked out until March, but plenty of those dudes came back to work on their craft. It’s been almost 12 months for some of those guys. It’s been four hard years for this senior class. This special senior class.”
They have one final assignment.
Third-seeded Iolani (10-2), the International League of Honolulu champion, punched its ticket to the title game with a 35-9 victory at No. 2 Moanalua, which was champ of the Oahu Interscholastic Association by beating Leilehua twice.
“We have to put it into high gear,” senior receiver Guyson Ogata said of the short holiday week ahead. “Laser focus all around.”
The seven-time BIIF champion Vikings seemingly know no other way to roll.
Defensive back Layne DePeralta quickly learned as much after transferring from Waiakea for his senior season.
“The bond that we have with each other, there is nothing else like it,” he said. “It was there early when we were scrimmaging all the (Open Division) teams over the summer on Oahu. We just had a great bond.”
DePeralta snuffed out one Mules possession by grabbing an interception in the end zone. Normally a safety, he moved to cornerback alongside Kilohana Haasenritter and Elijah Apao, and they each took turns playing in isolation in man-to-man coverage against receivers as the rest of the defense loaded the box to stop the run.
Leilehua finished with just 212 yards of offense, 94 of which came on two long runs by Jamil Vereen, but neither of those possessions ended in points.
“We watched a lot of film on them, and we saw they had size,” said Lewis, who forced a pivotal fourth-quarter fumble. “We used our speed to get past them.”
Quarterback Kyan Miyasato threw for 205 yards and touchdown passes to Fiki Aguiar and Haasenritter, Lyle Silva ran for 87 hard-earned yards, and Keanu Keolanui connected on field goals of 44 and 37 yards for Hilo, which built a 12-0 lead.
“Game-changers,” Drummondo said of the kicks, “44 yards, we don’t get that every year.”
If you had told him that the Vikings would turn the ball over five times, including four fumbles, in the first half under a steady rain, “I would have thought we would have been in big trouble,” Drummondo said.
The Vikings never were, though their situation got trickier when Kekoa Turangan fired a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jayzon Ramos on fourth down in the third quarter, and Mules got within 12-9 when Miyasato was called for intentional grounding after a snap got loose in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Leilehua got the ball at midfield after the free kick, and for the first time all season Hilo faced real adversity.
“We deal with it,” Lewis said. “We all come together and make sure we execute and do our job.”
After Leilehua was called for holding, Lewis’ sack got Hilo the ball back, and a few plays later Haasenritter had a easy jaunt to the end zone on a 19-yard play after his defender went for the ball along the sidelined and missed.
Aguiar provided the longest play of the game, taking a screen pass 73 yards for a touchdown down the left sideline after picking up a key block from Ogata.
“That’s a play we’ve been preparing for all week,” Ogata said, “and it worked.”
Everything has so far this season for the Vikings.
Drummondo said the players could enjoy the win for a day and refresh as the coaches studied film of Iolani on Sunday, then everyone will reconvene Monday to install the game plan, hit the weights and work on fundamentals.
That’s how Hilo rolls anyway for nearly 12 months out of the year, though unlike last season’s 42-22 loss to Waipahu, the Vikings want this late November visit to Honolulu to include more fireworks.
“They don’t want to feel that again,” DePeralta said. “They don’t want to feel that disappointment. The want redemption from last year and bringing that koa trophy home.”
Leilehua 0 0 7 2 – 9
Hilo 3 6 3 7 – 19
Hilo – FG Keanu Keolanui 44
Hilo – Fiki Aguiar 73 pass from Kyan Miyasato (kick failed)
Hilo – FG Keolanui 37
Leilehua – Jayzon Ramos 4 pass from Kekoa Turangan (Kekoa Turangan kick)
Leilehua – Safety, intentional grounding in end zome
Hilo – Kilohana Haasenritter 19 pass from Miyasato (Keolanui kick)