Thursday | December 14, 2017
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HAIL TO HILO: Vikings capture historic first state football championship

HONOLULU — Playing for the Big Island’s pride and riding a blue wave of support, Hilo came out confident and focused and made history at the HHSAA Division I football championships the hard way.

After giving up an early touchdown, the Vikings rebounded in spectacular fashion and thumped Damien 35-19 on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium, scoring three straight touchdowns at one point and winning the BIIF’s first state title.

Hilo senior quarterback Kaleo Apao had a monster performance, accounting for three touchdowns. He rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries and completed 8 of 13 passes for 134 yards with no interceptions.

Despite a constant bull’s-eye on his back, Viking senior running back Kahale Huddleston added 99 yards on 19 attempts for a 4.8-yard average and produced two touchdowns.

“It’s great for the BIIF and all the schools on the Big Island,” Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “It shows that kids from the Big Island can compete. They just have to work hard. That’s why we spend time in the weight room and work hard at practice.”

The Vikings played nearly flawless assignment-and-alignment defense. They were often in position to make a play, and when the ball came at a defender’s way a tackle was made.

Damien senior dual-threat quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina was held to 41 yards on 13 carries and was 15 of 32 for 172 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Running back Keoua Kauhi had 51 yards on 10 carries, a healthy average but no scores.

The Viks made sure to throw different looks at Faufata-Pedrina. They’d blitz or play man coverage with a spy on him to plug his escape-hatch running lanes. He’s the engine to Damien’s offense and was often stopped stone cold.

The three-time ILH Division II champion Monarchs (10-4) sold out on the run, stacking the box, to stop Huddleston, but he punished them anyway behind his big and mobile offensive line.

Two weeks ago, Hilo snapped the BIIF’s 0-for-19 skid at the Division I state tournament with a 26-7 win over Maui.

Elijah Apao, who had Hilo’s interception, couldn’t be prouder of his brother and the double scoop of history.

“We executed perfectly,” he said. “Kaleo’s a leader, and we played our best game. He plays two ways as a safety, and he still makes plays. I’m glad he’s my brother.”

On the game’s opening kickoff, Damien’s small (5-foot-6 and 145 pounds) but speedy senior Akila Arecchi took a handoff from a teammate, stretched the field and raced 96 yards for an entertaining touchdown.

The Monarchs scored again on their next possession after Hilo went three-and-out with an 11-play, 74-yard drive that consumed just 3:09 minutes.

It was capped by quarterback Faufata-Pedrina’s 1-yard score. During the scoring march, he showed savvy field vision, completing a pass with a blitzer in his face and later eluding three rushers for a short gain — the same skill-set as Apao, the QB with the Midas touch.

The Vikings answered with a pair of explosive plays (20 yards or more) by Huddleston, who caught a 33-yard pass from Apao and scored on a 20-yard run, which sandwiched Apao’s 21-yard scramble.

In the second quarter, the Apao-Huddleston combination really started to click, and the two scored touchdowns to help Hilo take a 21-13 lead.

Huddleston scored on a 12-yard run to polish off the first of two efficient drives. The seven-play, 66-yard march took just 1:50 minutes and was highlighted by Kalae Akui’s 30-yard reception.

When the Monarchs put a bull’s-eye on Huddleston’s back, Apao found room to operate and found Kainalu Tiogangco for a 24-yard completion that put the ball at Damien’s 37.

After a pass interference penalty, Hilo went to a split-back set, Huddleston cleaned out a perimeter defender with a perfect block, and Apao waltzed 22 yards untouched into the end zone for a 21-13 lead.

Hilo also got big plays from its defense. Right before halftime, Kashtian Ioane broke up a pass that would have put the ball in red zone territory (20 yards and in) with 32 seconds left.

In the third quarter, Damien got within 21-19 after Faufata-Pedrina threw a well-placed rainbow to Jarvis Natividad for a 19-yard touchdown.

The 12-play, 78-yard scoring drive was highlighted by a fake punt. Faufata-Pedrina threw a 12-yard pass to Pomai Kim on fourth-and-10 from near midfield. It was a risky gamble, but it paid off.

The Vikings countered again on their next series with a 12-play, 57-yard scoring march, capped by Tiogangco’s 5-yard touchdown reception. That increased the lead to 28-19 with just 14 seconds left in the third quarter.

Then the defense made a momentum-turning play when Micah Bello pulverized a Monarch to create a fumble, which Iosaia Lovatai recovered.

One play later, Apao lofted a 21-yard beauty to Makana Kanehailua for his second scoring strike and a 35-19 lead with 8:53 remaining.

Damien relied on short passes to move down the field on the ensuing possession, but Elijah Apao intercepted Faufata-Pedrina with five minutes left.

If the Vikings win a sixth straight BIIF title, it’ll be with a new cast. They lose eight starters on offense and seven on defense.

The Monarchs are in the same boat. They feature seven senior starters on offense and eight on defense.

So, maybe the two will meet again.

Whatever happens, history was made Kaleo Apao pointed out.

“Coming from the Big Island, we told each other we’re here to make history, and we did,” he said.

Damien 13 0 6 0 — 19

Hilo 7 14 7 7 — 35

First quarter

Damien — Akila Arecchi 96 kickoff return (kick failed), 11:38

Damien — Marcus Faufata-Pedrina 1 run (Shiloh Kaeo kick), 3:09

Hilo — Kahale Huddleston 20 run (Kahaku Tolentino-Perry kick), 2:15

Second quarter

Hilo — Huddleston 12 run (Tolentino-Perry kick), 5:10

Hilo — Kaleo Apao 22 run (Tolentino-Perry kick), :58

Third quarter

Damien — Jarvis Natividad 19 catch from Faufata-Pedrina (run failed), 6:04

Hilo — Kainalu Tiogangco 5 pass from Apao (Tolentino-Perry kick), :14

Fourth quarter

Hilo — Makana Kanehailua 21 pass from Apao (Tolentino-Perry kick), 8:53


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