Play it again, Kaleo: For one snap in 2017, execution turned otherworldly for Vikings and Warriors

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Kaleo Apao took over at quarterback for Hilo High in the middle of the 2017 season and helped lead the Vikings to the state title.

We all can’t grow up in paradise. I spent a portion of my teenage years living just outside Cleveland. Not only is it a fine town, but being there gave me a front-court seat to a torturous yet memorable period in the city’s sports history.

Before LeBron James delivered an NBA title in 2016, the city’s championship drought stood at 52 years. From 1987-89, the Browns and Cavaliers combined for three heartbreaking postseason losses that are still known to this day in the Cleveland lexicon – and nationally, to a lesser degree – by catchphrases.

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First came “The Drive” – John Elway marched the Broncos 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown with the 37 seconds remaining in the AFC championship game to take the Browns to overtime. They would lose.

A year later was “The Fumble” – Earnest Byner was running in for an apparent game-tying touchdown against the Broncos in the AFC championship rematch, before losing the ball at the 1-yard line with 1:12 remaining.

Finally, “The Shot” – Michael Jordan hit a drifting jumper from the foul line at the buzzer to lift the Bulls past the Cavaliers in an NBA playoff elimination game.

What’s all of this have to do with the Big Island?

Not much, but with catchphrases 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, Sept. 22, 2017: Hilo-Kamehameha football

Behold “The Pass.” Well, at least one person is calling it that.

Perhaps forgotten in Hilo’s historic drive to become the first BIIF team to win a state football championship in 2017 was the fact that the Vikings faced a wee bit of midseason adversity.

Konawaena finally figured out a way to slow down touchdown-maker extraordinaire Kahale Huddleston in a 24-14 win at Kealakekua, after which Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said his team was entering a “fork in the road” heading into another tough road assignment at Kamehameha. The Vikings also faced uncertainty at quarterback with sophomore Kyan Miyasato still trying to find his way. He would get there eventually in his career, but in the meantime the coaching staff turned to senior safety Kaleo Apao to take over at the most important position on the field.

“I’m not trying to put down anybody, I never do, but Kyan wasn’t doing it,” Apao recalled Wednesday from Virginia. “I talked to my dad and he said you have to do it for your team and your island. You have to be the QB.”

His first test was an aggressive and stout Warriors defense. True to his film study, Kamehameha came at Apao with multiple blitzing schemes, and running the read-option he was hit hard often through almost three quarters.

It was 7-7 as the fourth quarter loomed in a defensive battle, but it was advantage Warriors because Hilo faced a third-and-long at its 8-yard line. The situation prompted offensive coordinator Chris Todd to select a running play so the Vikings would have room to punt.

Apao diagnosed the Warriors’ look and called an audible, so instead of a boring run up the middle, what followed was the rare instance when most every player on the field does his job and across-the-board execution is sustained.

Actually, let’s call this “The Play.”

“Kamehameha was rushing eight, sometimes seven players, and I saw Justin Kenoi, he pulled over to the right of Kahale and everybody was (in) press (coverage), so it was cover 0 (no safety).

“At that time, nobody in the BIIF was guarding Kahale 1 on 1. I put Kahale to the right a little bit to run a wheel (route), and I told (receivers) Makana (Kanehailua) and (Kainalu) Tiogangco to run two ins, and then Kahale would run a wheel 1 on 1 with Justin Kenoi by himself.”

Apao gathered the shotgun snap, took a handful of steps to his right and was promptly leveled by a Warriors’ defender – but not before unleashing a high-arching pass that was coming down at about the 35.

Kenoi’s coverage was tight, and he read Huddleston’s eyes just right, turning around at the last second.

“You can’t cover a guy better,” Warriors coach Dan Lyons said after the game.

Huddleston’s catch was even better. He won a tight battle for the ball and scampered the final 60 yards unencumbered after Kenoi fell to the turf, not that Apao saw much of the 92-yard touchdown.

“I knew I was going to get drilled and I just had to trust in Kahale, and he pulled through,” Apao said. “I got cut wind. My right shoulder was bust.”

But the Vikings were on their way to a 28-14 victory and never looked back. They beat Maui 26-7 to end the BIIF’s goose egg at the Division I state tournament and followed that with a 35-19 conquest of Damien in the championship game at Aloha Stadium.

“That (Kamehameha) game definitely built up my confidence,” Apao said, “and to become the first BIIF state champion was a big accomplishment for our island. It wasn’t just me and Kahale. That senior class had some great leaders. We would talk each day and tell the younger players that we have to win the state title.”

Apao is stationed in Virginia in the Navy and is eagerly awaiting his transfer to San Diego later this year.

“It’s rough out here, it’s a cold world, but you have to be tough,” he said. “I thank my parents, and I thank Hawaii for building me up.”

Miyasato missed out on the 2017 title, but he was front and center last season in leading Hilo to its second state championship as the BIIF Division I player of the year.

“Kyan got one, and I’m proud of him,” Apao said.

His younger brother, recent Hilo grad Elijah Apao, was a starter on both Hilo state champions at cornerback, and the ohana doesn’t appear close to being done pulling off memorable plays anytime soon.

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“There are five more (siblings) after Elijah,” Apao said. “You’re definitely going to see some more Apaos in the Tribune-Herald. Trust me. Trust me.”

We would never doubt someone who had a such a big hand in “The Play.”

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