HILO >> There was no surprise in Kaeo Drummondo’s voice.
Moments after Hilo’s 19-9 win over OIA runner-up Leilehua, the Vikings coach gathered his team and spoke about their opponent in the Division I final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships.
“‘Iolani is very well coached,” he said as his players kneeled together. “We’ve got a short turnaround.”
No. 6 Hilo is a perfect 13-0 after a resilient victory over a tough, talented Leilehua squad that never quite found its footing on the slushy marsh of Dr. Francis Wong Stadium. Drummondo knew the experience and leadership of his senior class would shine through, even on a cloudy, rainy night in the heart of Hilo town.
“It feels good. It always feel good to play in front of your home crowd. We appreciate our community and we always hope they appreciate us. We always tell our guys, you represent the entire island, the league. Anytime we can play here in big games, that means a lot to us,” Drummondo said. “I’m glad that the (HHSAA) allowed us to play here. This is where we’re comfortable. This is where we play all our home games.”
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) November 24, 2019
Playing in town instead of Keaau, more than eight miles away, seemed to invigorate the Vikings for a second state tourney in a row. The field was sloshy, mud was cakey, but fans comfortable and boisterous under the covered bleachers behind home plate. It may be the only baseball stadium beloved by a community for football memories. Those gems are often about defense in the Hilo program of the past decade.
“For me, it’s always hard immediately after the game, but to hold them to nine points, that’s a hell of a game,” Drummondo said. “Our run fits got kind of loose on us a couple times when they busted 50-, 60-yarders on us. But we expected a very physical team to come over here. We scouted them over on Maui and for the first time, we got to see their size. It wasn’t as evident on film. We got them ready for that sniffer set, had a couple of different ways to limit it, and hat’s off to the kids. They came out and they executed.”
Though Hilo is one of the rainiest towns in the state, it has been relatively dry this season. That is why the surface at Wong Stadium was lush until this week’s rain. The Vikings and Mules struggled in every possible way with the wet football.
“We went to Walmart and bought about 50 towels. All we said was, center and the quarterback should have a brand new one every drive. Long snapper should have a brand new one every snap,” Drummondo said. “On our field, not only rain, but mud comes into play. This is football. You’ve got to play whatever the weather throws at you. It’s one of those things you cannot control. We gave a lot away today, so we’ve got to be better in that sense.”
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) November 24, 2019
The game felt like it was slipping away after Hilo opened the lead to 12-0 in the third quarter. After a safety, Leilehua was within 12-9 and had the ball at its 48-yard line with more than 8 minutes left. That’s when Hilo’s defense took things up a notch with a sack and forced fumble by linebacker Kainalu Lewis. That led to a TD pass from Kyan Miyasato to Kilohana Haasenritter, effectively putting the game on ice.
The 2019 Hilo Vikings share one common denominator with their predecessors: rock-solid defense. This squad also enjoys being a tight-knit unit.
“It’s a brotherhood. We’re family,” said Haasenritter, who committed to Hawaii in January.
“Definitely. I think the bond we have with each other, it’s like a brotherhood we have. We just connect. We work hard together,” Lewis said.
Drummondo and his staff made one request before the free kick from the Hilo 20-yard line following the safety: “We need a stop.” The Viks did not disappoint.
“Huge. At that point, the game could be in the balance. They had momentum. They got good field position. They score, there’s a good chance we don’t score again,” Drummondo said. “Our defense stiffens up. We get the ball back. We score. That’s how it goes. Coming in here tonight, that’s what I expected this game to be. Very physical, come down to the end, one or two possessions here and there, defense needs to come up with a stop.”
With that, Drummondo felt happy. Exhausted, he said, but happy. His children hugged him. He got those wet socks off his feet. Life is good.
“I feel good. Drained, but happy, very happy for this group. I mean, these guys, they’ve been working at this for almost 12 months getting ready for Pylon (7v7). This senior group, very prideful group, got humbled last year, came back strong. Came back early in offseason. They’re back. We’ve got to get one more. I heard it’s ‘Iolani. Just like this, I expect it to be fun. I expect it to be competitive. We know them well in the sense that they’re a well-coached team. We’ve got to be ready to go.”
Hilo won the D-I state title in 2017 and lost to Waipahu in the 2018 final. Lewis hasn’t forgotten.
“Great. Great to be back. We’ve got to finish it,” he said.
Haasenritter was still at Kamehameha-Hawaii and hadn’t transferred to Hilo. Now they and their classmates get to lead the way when the Vikings meet the Raiders at Aloha Stadium next Friday.
“I love it,” Lewis said. “We just got to play ball.”
“Speed on speed,” Haasenritter added. “Who wants it more? That’s all it is.”