HHSAA football: Hilo hankering for second state crown

  • Poi Dog photography Hilo's Kilohana Haasenritter, left, and Kaimi Tiogangco celebrate last Saturday during the Vikings' 19-9 win against Leilehua in the HHSAA Division I semifinals.

It wasn’t the last Thanksgiving Day spread most of Hilo High’s players would enjoy, so only a light meal was necessary after Thursday morning’s practice at Waiakea.

Some Vikings chomped down on hot dogs before going their separate ways. Bigger feasts were and are ahead.

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“Everybody is hungry,” sophomore running back Lyle Silva said.

No matter how much they stuffed themselves later in the day, Hilo (13-0) no doubt will retain that feeling more than ever Friday as it seeks to capture its second HHSAA Division I football championship in three seasons. Coach Kaeo Drummondo was confident all systems were a go heading into the Vikings’ game against Iolani (10-2) at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

“All things considered, we’re healthy, we’ve taken care of bodies the best we could, tried to refresh the bodies and focus on the mental aspects we’re going to face,” he said. “At 4 p.m., whether you’re ready or not, it’s time to go.”

As far as intangibles, Hilo is ahead of the game compared to last season, when it flew into Honolulu the day of the title game with a roster that included only five players familiar with the Aloha Stadium experience. Drummondo admits some players were “awestruck” in a 42-22 to Waipahu.

These Vikings flew to Honolulu on Thursday night with a more battle-tested roster. Roughly half played in the 2018 title game and soaked in the enhanced atmosphere.

“I think it’s a big factor and we’re better for it,” senior linebacker Kalen White said. “We like to play in the pressure, and when we get exposure to that, the lights, the crowds, I’ll think we’ll do better.”

Led by longtime coach Wendell Look, the Interscholastic of Honolulu League champion Raiders have a chance at their first state Division I title after winning eight in D-II, the most recent in 2014. In the semifinals last Saturday, Iolani avenged an earlier loss to Moanalua, cruising to a 35-9 road win on the strength of five interceptions. The Raiders’ other loss came in one of their four games so far at Aloha Stadium, 28-25 to Leilehua, which is the team Hilo beat in the semifinals, 19-9. Iolani and Hilo share one other common opponent: Kamehameha-Hawaii.

The Raiders won at Paiea Stadium 47-10 in early August, and Hilo handled the Warriors 54-10 two weeks later at Wong Stadium. The teams last met in 2017, a 62-35 Vikings road victory that served as a catalyst for their only state title run to date.

Same old Iolani, Drummondo said: efficient and disciplined, and both teams are senior-heavy.

“They coach their kids for the exact sort of things they need to be successful and they coach it well,” he said. “May not be the biggest, might not be the strongest in a lot of areas, but they have to be good in lateral quickness, moving in small spaces, deceiving with movement.”

Hilo was strong in most of those facets against Leilehua, which like Moanalua was a bigger team from the Oahu Interscholastic Association.

“We have to respect (Iolani’s quickness),” White said. “Size doesn’t matter. We proved that last Saturday.”

Iolani’s Brock Hedani and Brody Logan Bantolina have combined to rush for more than 1,250 yards and 22 touchdowns, and White favored their quickness and explosiveness to that of Leilehua’s Jemell Vereen, who gashed Hilo for two big plays in surpassing 100 yards on the ground.

One Viking who is set to play his first game at Aloha Stadium before making it his college home is Kilohana Haasenritter, a University of Hawaii commit who transferred to the Vikings after his junior season. Haasenritter has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games and has 12 on the season. Hilo also will line Haasenritter up at cornerback to try to negate one of quarterback Jonah Chong best receiving threats.

“It’s super exciting,” he said of playing at Aloha Stadium. “I’ve never been in front of a crowd like that, with the whole state coming.”

If he had his way, all of Hilo would have been able to get on the plane with the team to travel to Oahu.

“The community helps us and they give us support, and we just love and enjoy playing for them,” Haasenritter said. “It’s nothing like having the Hilo community around.”

Wailoa Manuel leads Iolani with more than 50 catches for 700-plus yards and four touchdowns, but Haasenritter pointed to Carter Kamana as the Raiders’ big-play threat.

“We just have to play our game and keep him out of it,” Haasenritter said. “Use our speed as well.”

Hilo quarterback Kyan Miyasato had gone six games without being intercepted before being picked off by Leilehua, but he still has thrown for a 44 touchdowns and just four interceptions, throwing to a big-play quartet of his own: Fiki Aguiar, Guyson Ogata, Kaimi Tiogangco and Haasenritter.

Together they’ve helped the Vikings put up 56.6 points per game.

For the second consecutive season, Hilo used the field turf at Waiakea as it last practice session before playing on Aloha Stadium’s synthetic surface.

“Started out cold, a lot of guys started in long sleeves, and now it’s hot,” White said. “Now we get to go home an eat.”

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But the real feast comes Friday, and Hilo is more than just hungry.

“We have fire to get on the field,” Silva said.

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