The First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships had a different look this year.
It looked quite well, even though it didn’t seem like that was possible. With the Oahu Interscholastic Association reducing its entry number from 10 teams in 2016 to just four, there was a question about how the tourney would stand.
It was a success. For more, read today’s feature in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
First, the Division II state final turned into a record-setting seven-overtime thriller. Lahainaluna defended its title in the 75-69 marathon, edging Konawaena in a four-hour-plus battle that never waned. It was Konawaena’s first time in the final, and it would’ve been the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s first state title.
The seven-OT game itself was an instant classic, but created two issues:
1) By going an extra 67 minutes in the extra periods, it pushed the D-I and Open Division finals back. The Open final between Saint Louis and Kahuku didn’t start until 9:58 p.m. When Kahuku quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava‘s final pass fell incomplete, it was 1:04 a.m., well past bedtime for most fans.
2) Most fans, as well as the coaches involved in the seven-OT game, say they prefer a shorter game. Lahainaluna’s Garret Tihada and Konawaena’s Brad Uemoto are in favor of adopting the college rule, which requires teams to attempt 2-point conversions after the second extra period.
Not everyone wants to tweak the rule.
“Don’t change the overtime rules. It works. It’s very dramatic and worked out in epic fashion,” Greg Rush opined via Facebook. “The real story is the emergence of the BIIF as a viable contender.”
To be certain, not a single fan deplored each additional overtime stanza during the game. It was pure drama. At the high school level, the chances of two kickers making a combined 12 PAT kicks and two field goals aren’t typically strong. But it happened.
HHSAA Executive Director Chris Chun wants to keep the tripleheader format intact.
“We need to figure something out. I want all the kids to play in front of 20,000-plus with a big-game feel,” he said. “But not end after midnight. This was a better feel than playing D-II and D-I separate like last year.”
>> Tee time
Star-Advertiser/Hawaii Prep World writer Christian Shimabuku supports an earlier start time.
“Even before the seven-OT game, I wanted the tripleheader to start at noon. Colleges kick off at noon all the time,” he said. “Even in August.”
>> Spillover effect
Hilo won its first state football championship, rallying past Damien 35-19 in the D-I final. The Vikings saw plenty of Big Islanders from Konawaena stick around to witness their victory. Plus, the length of the previous game pushed everything back, so plenty of Saint Louis and Kahuku fans were seated to enjoy the Hilo-Damien contest.
“I’d love to see the tripleheader remain in place,” Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “Growing up watching the state championship nights and finally getting to be a part of it was great. We had a great time and are fortunate and proud to have represented our island, league, school and program, finally bringing a state championship back to the city of Hilo and the BIIF.”
>> Drama by design
Six of the nine games in this year’s smaller state tournaments were decided on the final possession. With fewer teams — 12 this season instead of last year’s 20 — there were no quarterfinal games. Closer games made each bracket feel much more efficient.
“Throughout the playoffs and up to championship night, the term ‘instant classic’ was used quite a few times,” former Hawaii Preparatory Academy lineman Derrick Hanano wrote on Facebook. “That makes me inclined to think that the HHSAA got it right when organizing the divisions.”
Last year’s debut of the three-tiered format at the state championships has been proven right. Even if the OIA continues to stay away from the D-I state tourney. But that could change this offseason.
>> OIA double reverse?
Every OIA coach who has spoken about the OIA’s pullout from D-I supports the administrative decision, but has also would not be against participating again. In an eight-team bracket, that would have opened slots for four OIA teams in D-I: Campbell, the league’s fourth-place team, and three of the four teams that lost in the quarterfinals — Kapolei, Leilehua, Farrington and Moanalua. The D-II state bracket had just one OIA team instead of two.
“I think the tournament should go back to last year’s format,” Lahainaluna coach Garret Tihada said. “I think it was unfortunate that so many teams from the OIA did not have a chance to participate in the tournament.
Tihada anticipates change.
“It’s not going to be the same next year,” he said. “I’m pretty sure. It’s ridiculous. I feel bad for those (OIA) teams.”
“I’m a fan of the bracket that was in place for the 2016 tournament with the inclusion of OIA teams in every division. It’s something the OIA will hopefully look to going back to,” he said. “It’s best for competition and it benefits the players who are offered more exposure and the opportunity to compete for a state championship. You’ll always have critics who say the lower-level games are useless and there’s only one ‘real’ champion. Those people are definitely not coaches who put in the countless hours working with teams and preparing them to compete at another level your designated to compete at.”
Longtime Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez is an advocate of more games and exposure for players.
“I would like to see more OIA teams in the state tourney. It would be fun for the kids. It’s all about the kids and giving them more opportunities to play. Maybe have the OIA-ILH champions play for the D-I title and then have the three neighbor-island champions and five top Oahu teams (enter). A committee selects the most interesting ‘bowl game’ matchups,” Hernandez said. “I’d also like to see the season go back to playing the Friday after Thanksgiving. The season is among the shortest in the nation. Again, it would be more fun for the kids.”
Another veteran coach, Randall Okimoto of Farrington, is for more games.
“Imagine, we would’ve had all those teams (in the D-I state tourney). That would’ve been a heck of a D-I,” he said. “If it’s any excuse like money, you’re always going to find people willing to help the cause. I like what Rod York said about last year in D-I and how it helped them of this year, especially for your JV kids coming up, it’s so, so valuable. You cannot replace those additional reps.”
>> Shifting winds?
Top-seeded Lahainaluna’s back-to-back state titles weren’t a surprise, not when the program has been on solid ground for decades under co-head coaches Bobby Watson and Tihada. Moving up to Division I, where the Lunas were competitive in years past before D-II was conceived, is never out of the possibility. It’s just not probable.
“We always wish that, as Lahainaluna, we want to see how the OIA does it. Your best go to the Open (Division) and the next guys go to D-I,” Tihada said, referencing the format in 2016. “Right now, the MIL is only the top team (in D-I and D-II) go. There’s years we’ve been D-I and we were the No. 2 team (in the MIL), and we’re staying home. We’re a small league with just five teams. It would nice to send the top two (from MIL D-I). Then we’d gladly go to the D-I (state) tourney.”
>> Bright lights
The D-II state final kickoff time, 2 p.m., seemed to insure that the Wildcats and Lunas would be done before the sun went down. Instead, their epic battle played into the night.
“We purposely went to seven overtimes so we could play under the lights,” Konawaena coach Brad Uemoto quipped.
He has a point about that night-time environment. In fact, Uemoto thinks D-II should have equal footing with D-I when it comes to championship kickoff times.
“If I had one complaint, it would be the start time for the D-II game. I feel that D-I and D-II should flip time slots occasionally or have some kind of formula or vote to determine which division plays the first game,” he said.
Like coaches, fans had plenty to say about what is widely-regarded as one of the best football state tournaments in HHSAA history.
>> Instant replay
Before, during and after the game, coaches and fans have wondered aloud about utilizing instant replay, especially because it is available at Aloha Stadium. That won’t placate all spectators who are dissatisfied with officiating, but it would benefit the officials.
Some fans are also wondering what it would take to bring in out-of-state officials, but that’s a whole new expense — airfare, car rental, hotel rooms, per diem — that the HHSAA isn’t likely to create.
>> Free TV or no TV
One fan among many wasn’t happy that the game was available live only on pay-per-view. However, the HHSAA needs turnstile counts to be as high as possible. The tripleheader drew 22,436 spectators.
The game was available on free TV the next morning (Sunday).
Fans who arrived an hour early — prior to the 2 p.m. kickoff for Lahainaluna and Konawaena — were stuck in their cars all the way down Salt Lake Boulevard, curling around on Makuapaani Street, locked bumper to bumper and scarcely moving.
“If you run three games, cancel the Swap Meet,” one spectator tweeted. “Start the first game earlier. Cancel the trophy ceremonies.”