KEAAU – As a handful of his Hilo High teammates packed their bags over the summer and left for Utah to ensure they wouldn’t lose a second consecutive high school football season, Tysen Kaniaupio chose legacy over certainty.
“I kind of got dragged into that Utah thing,” the all-BIIF nose tackle said.
That is to say there were discussions, but they were one-sided, and Kaniaupio said he never considered leaving.
Not from his home. Not from this team.
“I wanted to continue playing for Hilo High and coach Chris (Todd),” he said. “I wanted to help continue the legacy at Hilo High.”
And so it begins for the seven-time defending BIIF D-I champion Vikings (3-1) and the lone remaining link to their 2019 state championship juggernaut. Hilo, a 45-6 winner over Keaau on Friday night at the Cougars’ stadium, will return to that venue next Friday to face Kealakehe (2-2) in the BIIF semifinals. The playoffs go through Kealakekua after Konawaena (4-0) pasted the Waveriders 42-13.
“I think we’re ready. I’m ready,” junior quarterback Kimo Ibanez Jr. said after he was productive with 10 his passes against the Cougars (1-3), completing eight for 189 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
Kaniaupio, a three-year starter – alas, one season was lost to the pandemic – appreciates how young the Vikings are, but he’s quick with a reminder about what’s at stake should Hilo falter.
“We have to remind everybody we’re competing for something bigger than what we are right now,” he said.
In film study, Todd said Keaau favored zone defense, but the Cougars came out and played Hilo man-to-man, so the Vikings simply ran go routes and Ibanez and his receivers carved up the defense. He completed four passes of at least 30 yards, including a 45-yard scoring strike to Naoi Richardson on a possession that started after Hilo stuffed Keaau on a fourth-and-short.
Kaunuali’i Harman dove for a 39-yard reception on the first possession of the game, leading to Jayden Pasco’s short touchdown run, and the first of Koa Akui’s long receptions set up Ibanez’s keeper into the end zone.
“They just played a lot of man coverage, and I know my guys there are too dangerous,” Ibanez said. “If they are going to play man and single high (safety), that’s when those deep passes are open.”
Keaau’s second drive, an 80-yarder, provided a brief charge. Quarterback Kaohu Kaluna connected with Joseph Lyman for a 28-yard gain before finding senior Masen Silva in the end zone on fourth-and-4 down to cut its deficit to 14-6.
But Hilo scored on the ensuing possession, and Kaluna’s next pass was picked off by Ezekiel Ledward, who returned it to the Keaau 8. Ibanez wasted little time in finding Richardson again for a 28-6 first-quarter lead.
With Keaau backed up in its territory and punting, the 6-foot-1, 290-pound Kaniaupio faked like he was going to rush into the line before slamming his foot into the ground, and the ploy seemed to work as the ball was snapped over the punter’s head, and Hilo took over at the 11. One the next play, Ibanez found Damien Kai working across the middle for touchdown.
“This is what I expected,” Kaniaupio said of a delayed and shortened season that started with an overtime loss at Konawaena. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy because we didn’t have too many players who were able to train and work out in the offseason.”
Senior defensive end/tackle Daylan Letisi was a nuisance all night, compiling two sacks. Kaluna utilized a short passing game with senior Damon Sharp, who made eight receptions.
“He’s stepped up,” Kaniaupio said of Letisi, who played junior varsity in 2019. “He’s showing he’s really passionate about the game and his IQ is high.”
Later in the half, Ibanez drew ire from his coaches for being late to leave the bench to join the huddle with his teammates, but he chucked one deep for Akui, who made an acrobatic catch along the sidelines to start a six-play drive that culminated in Xiah Kanae’s touchdown run to start the running clock before halftime.
Given Hilo’s relative inexperience, Todd is grading on the curve this year. But there are expectations, and at Hilo High they always point all the way to the top.
There is that legacy to maintain.
“We mostly talk about the present, but also ‘don’t this mess up,’” Todd said. “It’s an incentive for us, not to be ‘those guys.’ But we understand they’re their own team and playing under much different circumstances.”
Hilo 28 14 0 3 – 45
Keaau 6 0 0 0 – 6
Hilo – Jayden Pasco 2 run (Tre Nelson-Langacker kick)
Hilo – Naoi Richardson 48 pass from Kimo Ibanez Jr. (Nelson-Langacker kick)
Keaau – Masen Silva 4 pass from Kaohu Kaluna (pass failed)
Hilo – Ibanez Jr. 2 run (Nelson-Langacker kick)
Hilo – Richardson 8 pass from Ibanez Jr. (Nelson-Langacker kick)
Hilo – Damien Kai 11 pass from Ibanez Jr. (Nelson-Langacker kick)
Hilo – Xiah Kanae 2 run (Nelson-Langacker kick)
Hilo – FG 25 Nelson-Langacker