It wasn’t the busiest weekend as prep football matchups go, but we learned a lot in those four state-tournament games.
Two teams that Bleed Maroon
The Farrington Governors endured a week that nobody could’ve imagined. The Farrington Governors stepped up and dealt with the loss of Dayne Ortiz in a way that they’ll remember forever. They honored the senior cornerback in so many ways, and they learned that they are not alone.
Other teams came to support the Govs, through visits to the campus (Mililani, Punahou). Some prayed at their home campuses for the their gridiron brothers.
Then there was the trip to Maui, where the Govs played Baldwin. Farrington alums on Maui fed the football team before the game.
Hilo showed the might and force of its front seven in a loss to Campbell. The 42-27 final doesn’t exactly point readers to the physicality and quickness of that Hilo defense. It was 17-14 in the third quarter and the Vikings had limited the explosiveness of Campbell’s offense.
But here’s the biggest difference between BIIF football and OIA Red (and ILH D-I) football: Depth. The Vikings got through the BIIF slate undefeated (their early loss to Konawaena was an exhibition game) mostly because other Big Island teams aren’t as deep as a team like Campbell.
The Sabers didn’t panic. They remained patient because of a roster of players who trust their coaches, and a staff of coaches with plenty of seasoning. They’ve been through many a battle, starting with Coach Amosa Amosa. Sure enough, as Hilo’s defense took more and more reps on the field, their secondary broke down.
Hilo coach David Baldwin was right. After pacing the field slowly after the game, alone with his thoughts as the lights turned off, he knew: the Vikings could’ve won this game.
“We practiced defending those 50-yard bombs all week,” he said of the barrage of bombs launched by Campbell’s Isaac Hurd, who finished with a school-record 388 yards and four touchdowns by air.
In the BIIF, where teams aren’t deep and there’s a priority on running the ball — wet weather has often dictated play calling there — it’s not easy to adjust when game time arrives. All those bombs that get deflected at practice turn into something different midway through a third quarter.
As Hurd went into deep aerial assault mode, Hilo’s defensive backs weren’t completely ready to play the ball at its deepest landing point, and Saber receivers simply got behind the defense. It’s something a defensive back gets used to with game experience, and in the BIIF, it doesn’t happen much.
I remember back in the early 1990s, watching a Hilo offense led by quarterback Robert Medeiros, use the bomb regularly. The Viks won a league title during Medeiros’ era as he heaved deep, high passes to 6-foot-3 Casey Newman. Defenders simply weren’t used to seeing the ball come at them from 40 or 50 yards away. Hilo won just about every jump ball with Newman, who also starred for the basketball team.
Hilo, arguably, is a Top 10-quality team. I’m just glad I got to see them play up close at least once.
Stopping green giants
Konawaena had Ortiz in mind as they arrived on Oahu. The Wildcats printed “29” stickers for their helmets and joined Kaiser in a pre-game prayer for Ortiz.
Konawaena came into the season without its starting quarterback, Lii Karratti, after the senior-to-be transferred to his father’s alma mater, Kaiser. Brandon Howes stepped in and voila — the Wildcats won their third BIIF D-II title in a row.
But they were in a different world in Saturday’s state-tourney game at Kaiser. It basically stormed on Oahu on game day. Hawaii Kai was all wind and rain before kickoff, not good conditions for Konawaena and its passing game. The public-address announcer told everyone a flashflood advisory was in effect and the crowd of about 1,500 responded sarcastically with applause.
By game time, however, everything stopped. The rain. The wind. Turns out, it didn’t matter. Kaiser was the better team. Bigger. Faster. The Cougars found pukas in Konawaena’s defense and exploited them with sideline passes. When the Wildcats spread the coverage, Kaiser hit them up the gut with blast plays.
It was, essentially, a good D-I level program beating a good D-II program. It’s so easy to debate for hours about whether Kaiser should’ve been in D-I or D-II this year; if it were their choice, the Cougars would’ve been in the OIA Red Conference. I can go on and on about a slightly flawed classification system that leaves teams like Kaiser (this year) in D-II and even a large school like Campbell in the OIA White (a few years back).
There is, clearly, no perfect system. It would just be rational to be slightly irrational with the football filtering system and tweak here and there. I wouldn’t call the two-year cycle rigid. But in the bigger picture, the league — every D-II team in particular — would have more to gain by creating ways to permit a strong program to “play up” in D-I if requested.
I know that goes against all rules of administration and formality. And as Kaiser coach Rich Miano said after the 59-6 win over Konawaena, it’s moot point now. They’ll be facing another D-I quality program — I absolutely agree with his estimation — next week when the Cougars play Lahainaluna.
A lot of fans have asked me why Kaiser was seeded fourth after a dominant D-II season. The initial answer I give is that the HHSAA seeding committee has often based seeding on historical record. That means Lahainaluna, which lost to last year’s champion, ‘Iolani, 36-33, in the state final, gets a boost. Plus, the Lunas were competitive in D-I in the years before the D-II tourney was established, beating Mililani 41-34 in a wild game back in 2004.
‘Iolani, of course, has won six state titles in a row and seven of the last eight. So they got the third seed. So, even if you use history as criteria, why would Kauai be seeded ahead of Kaiser? Well, in theory, Kauai has done quite well in the postseason, reaching the D-II final twice over the years.
Kaiser? They lost in last year’s OIA White semifinal to Radford and didn’t reach the state tourney. The Cougars are limited to a (mostly) D-II schedule, while the MIL (Lahainaluna) and ILH (‘Iolani) play a desegregated schedule of D-I and D-II opponents.
But the eye test. The eye test! Kaiser has been unmatched in D-II play this year. Even their season-opening exhibition loss to Campbell was fairly good in terms of competitiveness. A Kaiser win in that game would’ve been eye-opening, I believe, for the seeding committee. But they did lose 21-7.
So, three months later, then what? I think Kaiser is good enough to give Campbell a much better challenge if they were to play again.
But there’s more to it all than history, even for the seeding committee. Go back far enough and you know that in many state-tournament seedings, the pairings have more to do with matchups than lining up teams from top to bottom. Part of it has to do with the enormity of the OIA, which gets half the berths in the state tourney for any sport.
If what I understand and hear is true, that the OIA wanted Kaiser to be in the opposite bracket of ‘Iolani, that would be the reason why they were placed in Lahainaluna’s bracket. I don’t have any idea why they’d want that, but at the very least, from Kaiser’s perspective, it’s important to know that A) the Cougars got to host a game (and attendance for last night’s game was healthy despite the weather), and B) it might have been difficult for the committee to justify having Kaiser seeded among the top two — hosting two games in the first two rounds — when the Cougars haven’t established a history as strong as the other three elite D-II programs.
I still believe that the D-I tourney should be an eight-team format, as it was in the beginning. The ILH has voted down every proposal at HIADA (athletic directors conference) to do this even if it could possibly open the door for a second berth for the league. Even if it could mean additional revenue to be shared by schools.
Can’t blame the OIA and ILH for holding on tight to those opening-round byes in the current six-team format.
That’s all for now. There’s a lot of game video to edit.