The new-look Konawaena-Kealakehe rivalry fell a bit flat.
With a new coaching staff, new quarterback and new system — plus some quality transfers from Konawaena — Kealakehe has the potential and promise that has fans excited. Expectations, however, are a bit on hold after Konawaena’s 24-7 win to open the BIIF Division I regular season on Saturday.
For the Wildcats, a full house at Julian Yates Field saw more of the same. Konawaena has had the upper hand in recent seasons, even while playing in D-II. The emergence of Kainoa “Boo” Jones at quarterback couldn’t have been prophesied just two months ago.
While projected Konawaena starting QB Shayden Nahale shifted with his father, Wyatt, the new Kealakehe head coach, there was no certainty about the new starter. Jones, a slotback at Kealakehe, then transferred to Konawaena to play QB. Musical chairs lives. Jones was 23-for-31 for 189 yards and two TDs with one interception. As expected, returnees Marc Basa (six receptions, 77 yards) and Jesse Canda (seven, 65, two TDs) got plenty of targets.
“We played a fairly good game considering it was our first game of the season. Our players showed what we expected out of them,” Wildcats coach Brad Uemoto said. “I know Boo originally from youth baseball, the same program that my son played in. I had heard chatter that he wanted to move up to our school. We don’t recruit or push anybody to come up. It’s something I’d heard around town. He contacted me about coming to practice and he made it up there.”
Uemoto made a comparison that might seem huge.
“He reminds me a lot of Austin Ewing, not only his athleticism, but they’re both students of the game. He is excited to be in our system. Once he sort of got the playbook, he picked this thing up fast. It’s one thing to learn the offense, but it’s another to conduct it. He really picked it up in two weeks,” Uemoto said. “His first game, I give him a solid C as a grade. He’s still learning the reads and there’s small details of lining people up, spacing people and carrying out fakes that he can get better at. He’s only a junior, so he’s got another year to master it.”
Konawaena’s biggest surprise, maybe, is the way it held its own in the trenches.
“When we went up to scrimmage on Oahu, we faced a lot of physical fronts in Waianae, Leilehua and Kahuku, Our linemen got a real surprise in terms of where we were at. It created some urgency amongst them, just to know we wouldn’t see fronts as fast and physical here. They made huge strides. That was the biggest highlight, how far we’ve come in two games. Screen game on point, cleaned up our block, our pass protection was solid. We gave up a few sacks, mainly Boo scrambling out of the pocket too quick,” Uemoto noted.
Kealakehe’s depth and talent at running back is something Coach Nahale wants to feature, but the Waveriders didn’t get a lot going against Konawaena’s front seven.
“It looks like they’re in a different offense for the most part. Ninety percent of the offense has changed. They’re very simple, working on execution. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the plays they ran. They tried to establish a run game and a short-passing game. Our defense did a good job stopping the run, and that limits the RPO part of the offense. The have a nice little quick running back and a nice power running back,” Uemoto said. “I was happy with the rest of our defensive line outside of Alex Muti (BYU commit). Alex is very patient. The rest of the defensive line showed up and took care of the load.
“You know, I wasn’t surprised. We’re kind of a veteran group. Our starters have been there in big situations, state championship game. The emotional standpoint, they did a good job of controlling that. They showed up, were business-like. I was disappointed in our discipline and a lot of those penalties that were selfish and kept (Kealakehe) drives alive. Not moving our feet, holding, those penalties killed our drives.”
Now 1-0 in league play, it’s a long season ahead with the double round-robin in D-I. Next up, though, is a nonconference matchup with California Interscholastic Federation powerhouse Mission Viejo.
“They’ve been to Maui. I think this is their first trip here. It’s basically one of our preseason games, because they start later than we do, we had to play this week. I know their head coach, who is also their OC, Chad Johnson, is from Bosco. When Bosco played Saint Louis, he was the OC,” Uemoto said. “They run tempo, a nice RB, load of WRs, nice QB. Their D-line is labeled as the best that Mission Viejo has ever seen. One of them has over 20 offers. Stud MLB. Bunch of size in the secondary.”
Uemoto has a history of scheduling powerhouse programs. Last year, the Wildcats played a preseason game at Kahuku.
“Mission Viejo is ranked eighth in California, 33rd in the nation. They’re definitely a quality team. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said.
The weather up mauka at Konawaena, particularly playing on natural grass, is probably something new for the visitors.
“They play almost all their games on turf. They came in on Sunday and they’re practicing on our field all week. It’s been raining a lot so they’ve been practicing in mud. I think it’s different for them. Some of their players laughing, trying to figure out how to keep their footing. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain, and by Friday it’s supposed to clear,” Uemoto said.
Rain is not what Konawaena prefers.
“For us, we’d rather have it dry. I don’t think poor footing is going to be the difference in the game. We’d rather have a dry field and dry football so we can execute,” Uemoto said.
The BIIF uses Baden footballs.
“Mission Viejo uses a skinny football, might be a Nike. The only problem is their ball is really dark and sometimes that’s an issue with our light. Our field is missing 14 lights out of maybe 50,” Uemoto added.
Meanwhile, the BIIF chase is beginning to form. Defending D-I league champion Hilo steamrolled defending D-II BIIF champ Kamehameha-Hawaii 54-10. In each division of the BIIF, only the top two teams qualify for playoffs. First place means a chance to host the title game. For this season, at least, it seems D-I roster sizes have shrunk on the Big Island.
“KS-Hawaii is super young. We dressed 26 the other night. Our full team is probably 30. We had some guys out with injuries. Last year we were in the low 40s. The (Kealakehe) transfers took a chunk. Even Hilo is mid-30s,” Uemoto said. “I think the whole island is fairly low.”
Bucking the trend, Konawaena’s junior varsity team has a large influx of new players, as projected by Uemoto before the summer.
“The majority of our JV are freshmen. I’m not too concerned with the numbers. We always practice and prepare as if we have low numbers, especially two-way players. The hard part is just being able to give our offense and defense looks with capable scout team guys. We’re burning a new trail with how we conduct practice. A lot less contact. More technical and mental,” he said.
After battling Mission Viejo, Konawaena will travel the following weekend to Honokaa.