8:20 p.m. Here’s the podcast from Josh Pacheco’s interview with Konawaena coach Cliff Walters on ESPN 1420 AM earlier today. Josh asks Coach Walters about the “payback” comment by former Ka‘u coach Greg Rush. However, there is speculation that the forfeitures by Konawaena this season (three wins, including one BIIF D-II game) were started out as formal complaints by Ka‘u.
3 p.m. So what to make of lopsided scores and, in the words of one coach, “demoralized” kids on the verge of giving up?
Or better (worse?) yet, there are kids fighting back. This was one of those weekends that was a collection of situations that raise this question.
• At Konawaena, the Wildcats scored 70 first-half points en route to a 91-8 win over Ka‘u.
• At Kaiser, the Cougars were still throwing the ball downfield with a 52-6 lead against Kaiser.
• At Radford, the Rams led Anuenue 42-7 when they did an on-side kick. One play later, a skirmish led to the ejection of an Anuenue player.
This the black-and-white capsulized view of things. But in reality, it’s mostly shades of gray. Let’s examine each scenario.
TO SCORE OR NOT TO SCORE?
That is the question surrounding Konawaena, which threw the ball just 12 times and wound up with seven touchdown passes, as I mentioned a few days ago in a Hawaii Prep World post. (Former Ka‘u coach Greg Rush and ex-HPA lineman Derrick Hanano shared their thoughts in that piece.)
On one hand, the Wildcats are right that they had only 19 plays from scrimmage (387 total yards, which is preposterously low for a 91-point game) and they played numerous junior-varsity athletes.
On the other hand, starting quarterback Kahoali‘i Karratti played most of the way, departing in the fourth quarter. Though the ‘Cats subbed in a lot of reserves, Karratti, one of the state’s leading passers, remained in the game because 1) the backup is John Kamoku, one of the best athletes in the BIIF, and 2) the JV quarterback “isn’t ready” for varsity play, according to assistant coach Trent Walters.
Rush is among those who are shaking their heads.
“If Ka’u had run the ball a bit, that would have helped keep the score down. But in spite of what you were told, Kona pulled their first unit with 7 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. Karratti threw two touchdown passes in the 2nd half. Kona went for 2 after they missed a 1 pt kick and they went for it on 4th down when they were up by 50. This was a payback event.”
What does Coach Rush mean by ‘payback’? Here’s what he wrote.
“Don’t want to go there, but it’s not hard to read between the lines if you look at the ‘official’ won-loss records.”
Konawaena recently forfeited three wins — only one in BIIF D-II play — due to the use of an ineligible player. But nobody’s saying that factored in, and I don’t believe it did.
Here’s what Konawaena assistant coach Trent Walters, son of head coach Cliff Walters, said in response to Coach Rush’s input.
“I think that if they had run the ball we wouldn’t have had as many chances, but I don’t think they would’ve moved the ball. I think they would’ve punted the same amount of times. We started pulling starters at the beginning of the game. We held out starters. We limited starters. Lii is backed up by a preseason top 10 QB in John Kamoku. Our JV qb is not ready for a full game. We only had 24 plays on offense. Lii took two series In the second quarter. We had a new formation that we wanted to run. Out of that formation he threw a zero-yard pass to cho who ran 55 yards for a TD. It is drilled in players to yell fire on a bobbled snap on field goal or extra-point tries. This is what happened there. It was not a called play. Iris a sanding agreement. You can’t turn it on the turn it off. We allow players to make choices.
“Remember Ka‘u beat Kona TWO YEARS ago. If there was ‘payback’ that would have been last year. There was zero cheering for the first point. It was not like the boys enjoyed that. Ka‘u received more cheers for their score from our sideline than Kona scores. Ka‘u is just not that good. A program can be turned around with the proper coaching staff. Kona is case in point. This was not enjoyable, it was not a run up on purpose for payback. Come on people.
“Ask all the coaches. There was never a 4th down for Kona I’m the entire game. We had a 3rd and 34. But that turned into a touchdown.”
Walters notes that Karratti was in the game during the third quarter for three plays before departing and didn’t play beyond that, contrary to what Rush said.
So, there’s some input from two people close to the fire, so to speak. How about someone from another school. Sam Papalii is at Kealakehe, back at the helm for a second stint. Note that Coach Papalii saw Kealakehe’s games last year from the bleachers. Kealakehe had two situations that got under his skin. One, an onside kick late in a blowout win. In another game, a rout of Hilo, Kealakehe threw the ball for a touchdown in the final minutes just to reach 60 points.
With Papalii back at the helm, Kealakehe is reeling in the over-the-top coaching decisions. Here’s what the longtime coach — he’s been on Division I college staffs — had to say (via e-mail).
“Regarding Konawaena’s 91-8 & 86-0 double humiliation of Ka’u Trojans, everyone has their own philosophy, as Head Coach in the past and in the present, Kealakehe High School’s Football Program has tried to win with class. Our contests versus Ka’u consisted of only run right and run left, no passing., starters played only one or two quarters. We knew that Ka’u was so ‘outmanned’ and we did not want to demoralize, humiliate, or discourage the student-athletes of such a small community, I live in Ka’u-Ocean View, so I know how tough things are in the community. Sports is and should be an opportunity for kids to have fun, feel worthy, and to believe in themselves.”
Coach Papalii had much more to say, but this sums it up in his own writing. The 86-0 game he refers to was on Sept. 7 at Konawaena’s Julian Yates Field. There was also a 76-0 win over Kohala a week after that, and by the end of the month, Kohala had closed shop. Injuries were a factor, but there were also a number of players who simply stopped coming to practice, leading the school to forfeit the rest of the season.
Go back some time and there was an 86-0 win by Konawaena over Pahoa in 1984. Bobby Command, who was sports editor at West Hawaii Today at the time, said it was a fluke in a sense. Pahoa threw the ball on almost every down, and Konawaena ran back a number of pick-6’s.
Was it that much different this season? Ka‘u threw the ball quite often, from what I heard.
But Coach Papalii’s point is what other coaches and administrators around the BIIF are probably asking out loud in meetings and phone calls this week. If a team can junk its normal passing-oriented offense — like Konawaena’s — to preserve the integrity of competition and goodwill, why not do it? From a purist’s point of view, especially a purist who teaches the run-and-shoot and other pass-first concepts, it might seem counterproductive to hand off the ball for an entire half or three quarters. But should that purity outweigh the morale of an entire football program?
It’s not like Konawaena ran the ball in from the 1-yard line on the final play of a blowout win. Even June Jones always took a knee in that situation when he was the coach at UH. But coaches spend hours teaching players how to execute as a team. Should they teach them to do anything differently in the second or third quarter of a crazy wipeout?
Who’s responsibility is that? Should it be legislated by leagues to end games, perhaps, when the margin hits 50 points?
I asked Kimo Weaver, the athletic director at Kamehameha-Hawaii, for his input. He was an AD at Ka‘u before coming over the KS-Hawaii, first as an assistant AD to Bob Wagner. KS-Hawaii traditionally has been a D-II powerhouse in the BIIF, so Weaver has seen both ends of the stick.
“With football, there’s always a way to control the scoring. It’s not so much who played in the game (for Konawaena), but what they called,” he said of the 12 pass attempts and seven touchdown tosses. “Their JV quarterback wasn’t ready? Meaning he can’t hand off the ball?”
KS-Hawaii played Ka‘u earlier in the year and won 43-0.
“When we play them again in a couple of weeks, we have a game plan of keeping the ball on the ground,” Weaver added. “I know sometimes there are punt returns and interception returns for touchdowns and that can happen quickly. But after that, you can start counting the clock down.”
Josh Pacheco, who often talks about high school sports on his daily show on ESPN Hawaii Radio, looks at the blowouts in a slightly different light.
“Knowing the Konawaena coaching staff, I don’t believe that they would run up the score on anyone. Stats do show that a few JV players did play, but that Karratti was in and threw seven touchdowns out of 9 completions.
“I think the bigger picture is what you said in your Prep World piece, that this further shows that Ka‘u’s place in football right now is better suited in 8-on-8 if they can get that together.”
TOUCHING THE SKY
Kaiser was up on Kalani by several touchdowns late in the first half when they drove for a touchdown before intermission. That didn’t faze me or most fans, but with the score already at 45-6, there were a few who considered it inappropriate.
But what I saw was this: a team working on a 2-minute offense. And before that drive, and then when the second half started, I saw Kaiser trying to run the ball against as many as 10 men in the box. That’s right. Go back and look at your video like I did. (Here are the game highlights, if you missed them earlier in the week.) From the start of the game, when Kaiser lined up in a Power I, Kalani stuffed 10 defenders in the box.
At many points, Kalani stonewalled Kaiser’s running backs. Even on the 2-point try in the second quarter, Kalani rocked Fitou Fisiiahi for a loss, and he’s a 240-pound back with power. They also stopped 270-pound fullback Manase Palu on a red-zone carry.
Most coaches, if not all, will use play-action and that’s what Kaiser did sometimes, throwing sideline passes. But the Cougars also went deep a handful of times with no success and a large lead.
Is that wrong? Should they have just handed the ball to their running backs early in the third quarter and let them get blasted? It’s a tough call. But they ran anyway, mixing in some passes. Makana Lyman, their starting quarterback, stayed in for most of the game.
“Maybe Coach (Rich) Miano need to work on a few things,” Weaver said.
I saw nothing wrong with what Kaiser did, too, but if I were a Kalani fan, I might feel … sour. Especially on homecoming night. That’s understandable.
“There’s a fine line between what Konawaena did and what Kaiser did. After the 60-point range, you can do things differently, and Konawaena’s won by that much three times,” Weaver said. “Konawaena was way out of line.”
ON WHOSE SIDE?
So, with a 42-7 lead, Radford tries an on-side kick. One play later, after Radford got the ball back, an Anuenue player jumped offside, there was some shoving, and then a ruckus that held the game up for at least five minutes. The Anuenue player was ejected.
But really, his anger was predictable. I’d be mad, too.
So what really happened? Why did the Rams do it?
From a football purist’s perspective, it made sense. Anuenue had taken the opening kickoff and drove for a touchdown, consuming 11 minutes while taking a 7-0 lead. I’ve seen Anuenue do this before, using that Double-Wing offense to eat up the clock and wear down defenses.
So, when consecutive Anuenue turnovers led to a string of quick Radford touchdowns, the Rams realized their defense hadn’t really sat on the bench a whole lot. If they could recover an on-side kick, they could hang on to the ball.
But doing it with the score 42-7, that’s another story. While officials were resolving the mess after the skirmish, Anuenue coach Kealoha Wengler was on the field and yelled to the Radford sideline, asking their coaches, “What was that?” while holding both thumbs down. He was referring, of course, to the on-side kick.
The Radford coaching staff then accused Anuenue’s coaches of ordering the defensive player to jump offsides and start trouble. Wengler said that was completely false. In fact, most Anuenue players don’t come to the sideline during games because of their lack of depth.
“The boy never came of the field,” Wengler said.
But it was a classic case of one thing leading to another. It started before the game nicely enough, with old coaching brethren Wengler and Radford’s Fred Salanoa shaking hands and sharing a laugh.
“We’re friends. He wrote me a letter of apology, and it’s sincere,” Wengler said. “It didn’t make sense, though. He said they did the on-side kick to ‘control the tempo’ of the game.”
That’s where the football purist thinking enters the equation. Maybe Radford just didn’t want its defense out there for another 11 minutes. A June Jones-led team would’ve gambled sooner than later, forcing a turnover or giving up a touchdown — quickly — so the offense could get back to work. But most high school teams won’t gamble that way, preferring to bend and hopefully not break.
By Wengler’s estimation, Radford’s offense had the ball for just 4 minutes in the first half while scoring the 42 points. That in itself might be why Salanoa and his staff opted to try and get the ball back rather than let Anuenue’s smashmouth offense get the ball back on a kickoff.
“I don’t want to badmouth Fred. After all that, they ran the ball for the rest of the game,” Wengler said. “But sometimes coaches get caught up in the emotion. We’re role models for kids. Kids are learning from us. Konawaena scored the 91 points in that game. Sportsmanship is leaving the game. There’s a lot of selfishness, trying to get their players to be the stat leaders.
“But the coaches are embarrassing themselves.”
I’m a bit torn on this one. I can see Radford’s perspective. They want reps for their offense, especially with the OIA White playoffs coming. But in that bizarre sequence of turnovers and touchdowns that led to the 42-7 cushion, the need to simply get the game done with — an Anuenue drive would’ve taken another 11 minutes and Radford would’ve still led by four touchdowns with just one quarter remaining — should’ve prevailed.
On the other hand, an on-side kick can be a gift. Recover it, your team is at the 50-yard line … but what is missing in the football purist’s perspective is the spirit of the game. I haven’t spoken with Coach Salanoa yet (but I’m hoping to).
But the fact that he wrote a letter of apology, and that Coach Wengler accepts it, well, that’s good enough for me.
What happens between the lines should stay between the lines. If some teams learned a lesson this weekend, they deserve the benefit of the doubt in the next week and month and year and decade. Next time, maybe Konawaena runs the ball and keeps the score below 60. Maybe not. Maybe Radford stops on-siding with a 35-point lead. Maybe not.
It’s a competitive world out there. There’s more gray than black and white. Drawing that fine line isn’t always so simple in the heat of the battle. I’d rather see it drawn by coaches than see something legislated by administrators.
Spirit and morale? It takes more than legislation to protect both.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser