Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022|
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By KEVIN JAKAHI
KEAAU — It was obvious Kealakehe’s game plan was to not let Hilo’s multi-skilled, difference-maker Koa Akui make a major dent, so the Waveriders punted the football away from him as much as possible.
But Akui is a Viking Swiss Army knife and has so many tools to hurt an opponent, and the one punt that he caught he raced 27 yards and almost scored in the BIIF Division I semifinals on Friday at Keaau High’s stadium.
Akui, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior, scored on a 48-yard reception and a 30-yard pick-six in Hilo’s 47-0 rout over the depleted Waveriders to reach the BIIF championship for the ninth consecutive time.
In the other semifinal, Konawaena eviscerated Keaau 55-19.
The Wildcats (5-0) will host the seven-time defending champion Vikings (4-1) on Friday at Julian Yates field for the BIIF championship and a berth in the Division I state championship.
The season is over for the Waveriders (2-3), who graduate 10 seniors, including quarterback Sheynen-Wyatt Nahale, running back TJ Arakawa, safety Shane Ascino-Kalahiki, and defensive lineman Duke Becker.
In Hilo coach Chris Todd’s mind, Akui is shining Example A of self-improvement. Akui was a 5-2, 105 freshman but hit a growth spurt and hit the weight room and offseason even harder.
Every time Akui touched the ball he was a threat to score a touchdown. In the first half, Akui had two carries and rushed for 34 yards, caught five passes for 91 yards, and played stellar defense in the secondary.
“In our time here at Hilo, Koa is probably the most talented guy,” Todd said. “We’ve had other guys who were good at one thing, but Koa is skilled at everything. I haven’t seen anyone in the state as capable as he is in a skill position, who has worked and progressed as much as he has.
“I talk about this all the time, but he was our smallest JV person, 5-2, 105 pounds, so the work he’s put in the offseason with his father, other coaches, it showed itself very well. He played a very complete game, receiver, quarterback, returner, free safety, down safety, little bit of everything.”
The Vikings still haven’t solved their yellow-flag problem. They got flagged 12 times for 115 yards, including seven for holding. Two penalties also canceled a pair of touchdowns before the small bipartisan crowd and six illegally parked cars outside the Cougars stadium.
“A lot of holding. It’s something we’ve taken a look at on film. We tell our guys, ‘Go out there and be aggressive,’ and we’ll watch film afterward and correct it if necessary,” Todd said. “If you’re reaching and your feet are out of position, that’s one thing, but if you’re making an aggressive play we’ll live with it unfortunately.”
By comparison, the Waveriders had seven penalties for 70 yards. But they were without the two Cummings brothers (shoulder injuries), junior Ayzen, who doubles as the punter, and sophomore Javiyen. Ayzen was able to punt, but Kealakehe missed his ability to easily separate and get wide open.
With the deep route gone, the Vikings played Cover 3 (one safety) and shut down the run. The Waveriders rushed 32 times for negative 2 yards. Nahale went 16 of 31 for 106 yards and one interception. Junior receiver Hunter Acia caught six balls for 68 yards.
“Hats off to Hilo, looks like they’re putting it together at the right time,” Kealakehe coach Wyatt Nahale said. “They’re tough, and like I said at the beginning: the road to the championship goes through Hilo. We had some key injuries that affected us (from last week’s game). Nevertheless, we still went out there and battled. They never put their head down and never gave up.”
Lost under the brilliance of Akui’s performance was Hilo junior quarterback Kimo Ibanez Jr., who went 13 of 24 for 237 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed six times for 41 yards.
“He’s gone from being primarily a defensive end and got thrown into that position this year, so any mistake he does make is due to a lack of experience,” Todd said. “He’s performing well, but he knows what we have to work on every week. A lot of it is the polish, the consistency. But even from that perspective, he’s come a long way in the last couple of months.”
Senior running back Jayden Pasco led the bulldozing effort with eight carries for 42 yards and one touchdown. Damien Kai had four receptions for 86 yards and two TDs, and Naoi Richardson had four catches for 54 yards and one TD.
In the first quarter, Pasco scored on a 3-yard run with an unknown amount of time left after Tre Nelson-Langacker kicked the PAT. (Keaau’s scoreboard still wasn’t working.)
Akui reeled in a 48-yard scoring strike from Ibanez with an UAOT remaining for a 13-0 lead. Then Kaumuali’i Harman had a 10-yard TD reception for a 20-0 lead with an UAOT left.
Then Nelson-Langacker booted a 30-yard field goal with an UAOT left for a 23-0 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Kai caught a 38-yard scoring strike for a 30-0 cushion with an UAOT remaining. Then Richardson hauled in a 30-yard TD catch, followed by Akui’s pick-six for a 44-0 cushion with an UAOT left.
Nelson-Langacker capped the scoring in the fourth quarter with a 41-yard field goal for a 47-0 lead with an UAOT remaining.
In the season opener, Hilo fell to Konawaena 24-21 on the road. The Vikings are focused on the rematch: The winner earns gold awards; the loser’s season is over.
The last time the Wildcats won the overall BIIF championship was in 1999 before statewide classification, which started in 2003. They finished runner-up to Hilo in 2019.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’s always challenging to play out there,” Todd said of the partisan crowd at Julian Yates Field. “Our players and coaching staffs are very familiar with each other, so obviously we’re pretty bitter about the last one. It’s anyone’s game out there, and our kids are anxious to showing them a new Hilo. I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing. It’s going to be a battle, and it always is against Konawaena. It’s pretty fitting it comes down to our two teams again.”
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