Thursday | December 14, 2017
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HHSAA football championships: Either Hilo or Damien will make history with first state title

If all goes according to plan, Hilo football coach Kaeo Drummondo will feel much better leaving Aloha Stadium on Saturday night than he did after a short stint there earlier this week.

Drummondo attended the HHSAA championship media day in Honolulu on Tuesday, and he was no worse for wear when he got back to Hilo in time to lead practice in the afternoon. That night, however, he came down with flu-like symptoms, and a fever and body aches Wednesday forced the third-year coach to miss practice for the first time he could remember.

During any other week he probably would have remained in bed Thursday, but he was back at practice, a cold sweat noticeable, drawing X’s and O’s on the chalkboard.

By now, the message is clear.

“They’ve heard me preaching the same thing to them, for some of them it’s been a couple of years now,” he said. “For the rest, nine months or so. How much they’re absorbing, listening to you, you hope they (listen) to what’s important.”

Drummondo’s illness not withstanding, all the other temperature gauges on the Vikings say they are primed and fit to compete for their first state championship.

“We’re itching to get on the field already,” senior wide receiver Makana Kanehailua said as Hilo gets set to play its third consecutive game coming off of a two-week break.

Termed a “work-in-progress” by Drummondo in August, few would doubt the five-time BIIF champion Vikings (9-1) have put in the work, and they’ll receive the ultimate progress report when they tackle ILH champion Damien (10-3) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the state Division I title game.

“Hopefully, Saturday night is the best product we put on the field all year,” Drummondo said. “Only time will tell. We’ve tried our best to prepare them as far as what to expect and what we expect of them.”

Hilo anticipates facing a Damien defense stacked to control standout senior running back Kahale Huddleston. At the same time, the Vikings defense expects to face a steady diet of Monarchs senior quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina, either through the air (where he has thrown for 20 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards), or freelancing and making plays on the ground (his team’s second-leading rusher, he has seven scores on the ground).

Faufata-Pedrina’s dual-threat capabilities remind Drummondo of two quarterbacks Hilo has faced this season, Iolani’s Tai-John Mizutani and Konawaena’s Austin Ewing, who helped tag Hilo with its only loss this season.

In film study, Faufata-Pedrina’ elusiveness jumped out at Hilo linebacker Iosaia Lavata’i, reminding him of Hilo quarterback Kaleo Apao.

“(Kaleo’s) really hard to tackle, because he’s just fast,” Lavata’i said. “I don’t think I tackled Kaleo once during practice this season.”

Apao was Hilo’s X-factor Nov. 4 in a 26-7 state semifinal victory when he led the read-option rushing attack against Maui, which was intent on stopping Huddleston.

It’s not often that a BIIF team can produce a talent the likes of which an Oahu hasn’t faced in a season, but the speedy Huddleston just may fit the bill, and he runs behind an strong and athletic offensive line.

“He’s definitely a point of emphasis,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said at media day. “Once he gets out there, he’s going to be gone. But we don’t want to just focus on (him).

Huddleston, who averages more than 10 yards per carry and has accounted for at least one touchdown in every game this season and 33 in all, was already a marked man.

On Thursday, the state accolades started rolling in. Huddleston was selected as KHON’s Cover 2 offensive player of the year, the first BIIF player to receive the honor since Hawaii Prep’s Bobby Lum in 2013.

“The defense has to focus on him,” Kanehailua said, “but Kaleo has gotten a lot better throughout the season and has really opened it up for us.”

Since taking over the full-time quarterbacking duties after a 24-14 loss at Konawaena, Apao has steadily built chemistry in the passing game with Kanehailua, Kainalu Tiogangco and Guyson Ogata, all off whom have double-digit receptions this season. Kanehailua said Hilo’s offense will need to showcase a variety of weapons to move the ball against Damien.

“They are really balanced,” he said. “I don’t see any weaknesses on their defense. They don’t make any errors or anything like that. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Hilo and Damien shared two common opponents this season. The Monarchs beat Iolani twice (35-21 and 42-25), while the Vikings handled the Red Raiders 62-25. Damien scored a 20-7 preseason win at Kealakehe, which the Vikings beat twice (42-19, 38-18).

Drummondo spent most of his time in the film room watching Damien play ILH rival Saint Francis – the schools split four meetings this season – admiring the way the Monarchs stood up against the physical Saints in the trenches. Hilo won’t be at a size disadvantage, but Drummondo doesn’t expect Damien to be easy to push around.

“When you watch Damien’s front on both sides, you can tell that they are disciplined and well-coached,” he said.

Hilo enters the championship game relatively healthy, and it used its latest two-week break to its advantage, heeling up after the physical encounter against Maui, Drummondo said.

Senior defensive lineman Austin Younce was lost for the year earlier this season with a leg injury, but the Vikings have an ample amount of depth at defensive end to pair with standout nose guard Kuresa Toledo.

“Life is good,” offensive lineman Tilini Livai said.

And it could get a whole lot better.

 

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