It was a long time coming and the Hilo Vikings finally got it done for the whole island of Hawaii.
No Big Isle team had ever won a football state championship since the tournament began in 1999 … until Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.
Heck, it was hard enough for a Big Isle team to win a game in the tourney. Now, they’ve got that elusive Division I (second tier) championship.
The Vikings (10-1) got off to a slow start and trailed Damien by 13 points before taking over for a 35-19 victory.
“With the delay (after Lahainaluna’s seven-overtime 75-69 win over Kamehameha for the D-II crown), it was hard to tell if we were ready or not,” Hilo coach Kaeo Drummondo said. “Apparently we weren’t. We got punched in the mouth and we needed to respond and we did.”
Kahale Huddleston, who rushed for 244 yards in a win over ‘Iolani early this season, had a big hand in the comeback. He scored on runs of 20 and 12 yards to give the Vikings a 14-13 lead. He finished with 92 rushing yards, and quarterback Kaleo Apao added 98 yards and a TD on the ground and two TD passes.
Damien kept it close, making it 21-19 midway through the third quarter, but the Vikings dominated the rest of the way. With 7:12 to go, an Elijah Apao interception put a damper on the Monarchs’ abiity to make a comeback.
“We wanted to make Hilo proud and we did,” Huddleston said. “We wanted to keep pushing forward and get this W. We had been through adversity before, so we just had to keep pushing and put all our hearts in it and keep going forward. We did and we got this W.”
Marcus Faufata-Pedrina finished his stellar career as Damien’s quarterback with a rushing TD and a passing TD.
“Everybody played their hearts out,” Faufata-Pedrina said. “Props to Hilo. They played a tough game. We started really fast and started to slow down a little bit. I honestly don’t know what it was. They played a helluva game and got the better of us tonight. For the last game of the year, it was a little bit of a bitter taste, but it was a helluva ride and I want to say thanks to our coaches and to the boys.”
Faufata-Pedrina also thanked the players who came before him for setting the winning foundation for Damien (10-4), which has now won three ILH D-II titles in a row.
Coach Eddie Klaneski talked about the Monarchs’ successful season and the future: “We want to continue to win and have a good tradition at Damien. We’re proud of our kids. We had a great season. Proud of our coaches, the administration, the parents, everybody who made it a great season. I feel bad for our kids, but we’re in position to keep our program going on the right path.”
The last time the Monarchs were in a state title game, they lost 9-7 to Aiea in D-II in 2003, the first year of classification.
When the clock wound down to zero, the Hilo stands erupted in celebration and 6-foot-5 right guard Kaeia Vera was one of several who immediately lifted his helmet toward the fans.
“It’s just surreal to get to this point — after all the offseason training, everything we do in practice,” Vera said. “It’s just amazing. As a freshman, I never saw myself here. Honestly, it just feels great. Anything is possible. Don’t limit yourself. Go beyond that. Strive for greatness.”
The Vikings received their trophy after the first quarter of the late game, while Saint Louis and Kahuku were locked in a 7-7 tie in the state Open Division final. Just three years ago, Hilo was leading Kahuku 10-0 before the Red Raiders came back with 20 fourth-quarter points for a 20-10 state D-I (top tier) first-round game.
On Saturday night, Hilo didn’t beat the best in the state, but the Vikings did defeat the best in their classification. They are a force to be reckoned with in the middle division and could step up to the top tier again some day.
“This means everything,” Drummondo said. “This is what we work so hard for. This is why we start as soon as the dead period ends. That’s why we get in the weight room and get back to work. To accomplish your goal, you can’t ask for anything more. I’m happy for the kids, the community, the program. It’s exciting to take that koa trophy home with us on the airplane tomorrow. I’m just ecstatic.”