Fumble at Konawaena in 2013 was first of many lucky bounces for Hilo High

  • Tribune-Herald file photos Hilo High’s Makana Josue-Ma’a stops Konawaena’s Makoa Chapa during an August 2013 nonconference game at Wong Stadium that the Wildcats won 38-24. Later that season, the teams played in Kealakekua, where Josue-Ma’a loomed large in the outcome.

It was a blow to our sports coverage in 2012 when former owner Stephens Media decided to abandon the press in the basement of our building on Kinoole Street.

Whether our Las Vegas bosses were a collective brain trust or collectively brainless is a matter of opinion, but a bet was made that we’d be best served if the Trib was printed on West Hawaii Today’s press and then shipped to Hilo for delivery. To facilitate the plan, our deadlines were moved up two hours, effectively shutting us out of next-day coverage of any event that started after 6 p.m. (Oahu Publications Inc., which bought the Trib and WHT in 2014, has largely remedied this problem).

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It would be easy for me to sit behind a computer screen and blast former bosses for being ignorant or foolhardy or obtuse or idiotic. However, let’s digress and focus on a silver lining of the earlier deadline: It allowed me, weather permitting, at times to cover football games from the sidelines as opposed to the press box, since deadline wasn’t an issue. On the sidelines, you can get a better feel for the emotion of the game and the interaction between coaches, players and referees.

With that in mind, let’s continue looking back at some of the most memorable sporting events that yours truly has been privileged enough to cover during the past 10-plus years.

Friday, Oct. 4, 2013: Hilo-Konawaena football

Looking back upon his eight seasons with the Hilo High football program, Kaeo Drummondo thinks first and foremost about of the special and enduring relationships he built with players and coaches. All the glory they achieved together – seven consecutive BIIF titles, five with Drummondo as the head coach during that a stint that included two state titles before he stepped down this offseason – comes second.

But some plays have a way of sticking out.

“Honestly, that’s about the only (play) of the game that I remember,” Drummondo said Wednesday of a battle BIIF of unbeatens in Kealakekua, back when Hilo was looking to end a 10-year title drought.

Konawaena went to Wong Stadium in an August nonconference game and scored a 38-24 victory. The rematch was six weeks later at Julian R. Yates Field, and though Hilo’s defense was up to the task, the two-time defending BIIF D-II champion Wildcats took a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter on Brandon Howes’ second touchdown pass. Hilo cut its deficit to two points when Tristin Spikes’ 46-yard run set up Malu Lapilio’s touchdown, but the Wildcats still were in control with the ball near midfield and about 2 minutes remaining in the game.

All they needed was one first down to ice the game, and even if they didn’t get it, they still could have pinned the Vikings deep and relied on their defense, which limited Hilo’s passing attack.

“We needed to create something and we were using A-gap blitzes to try and disrupt the handoff,” said Drummondo, then Hilo’s defensive coordinator under David Baldwin. “I believe it was a misdirection play, and we just had enough time to shoot the gap and disrupt the handoff a little bit.”

One moment I was adding up my statistics on the sideline and waiting for another harmless run play, and the next – FUMBLE! – Hilo’s bench roared with delight as Makana Josue-Ma‘a was streaking down the sideline with a 52-yard fumble return and a 21-16 Hilo lead.

What just happened?

“We were trying to strip the ball,” Josue-Ma‘a said after that game. “I looked behind me, and once I saw the running back when I picked up the ball, I turned on the jets.”

The senior credited defensive lineman Isi Holani with the strip, but Holani would only say, “A dream play happened there.”

Or a nightmare.

“Never had that happen before,” said Konawaena coach Cliff Walters, who saw a bobbled handoff. “Some teams have luck, today we didn’t and they did.”

Drummondo agrees with that assessment, and he can’t definitively explain the game-defining play.

“I’m not sure without being able to look at the film, which I don’t think we have anymore,” he said. “I don’t know if it was anything with our players (touching them) in the backfield. Sometimes you get lucky bounces.”

They haven’t stopped coming yet for Hilo, which would go on to topple “Mount Kealakehe” to cap an undefeated season in the D-I title game with a 21-10 victory against the Waveriders, starting its dynasty.

“It’s games like that and moments like that (at Konawaena) where the players start to believe that they can make plays when it matters most,” Drummondo said.

As for the Wildcats, they’d be fine. Konawaena beat Hawaii Prep 27-19 later in the season to secure a third consecutive D-II title during a run that ultimately saw it claim six titles in seven seasons (the second three under Brad Uemoto).

If Hilo has had one BIIF kryptonite over seven dominant seasons, it’s been Julian R. Yates Field, home to two of Hilo’s three league losses since 2012. Drummondo said it’s easy to see why. The Vikings have run into well-coached and talented teams playing in a hostile environment and have had to play their A game.

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Then again, it’s not the wins and losses that always matter most.

“The relationship with the players, the life lessons we tried to teach as far as what we believed would allow them to be successful, those are the things I remember, ” Drummondo said. “Championships get all the publicity, but to me personally, it’s the day-in and day-out things that I cherish.”

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