Hilo coach David Baldwin was not smiling while walking down the handshake line after his Vikings allowed 20 points in the second half of a 20-10 loss to No. 3 Kahuku in the state Division I quarterfinals at Aloha Stadium on Friday night.
Only Baldwin knows what he was thinking, but from the outside it looked like he was angry that such a whale of an opportunity passed the Vikings by.
Had No. 9 Hilo won, it would have probably been the biggest upset in state tournament history, and it would have ranked right up there with the biggest upsets in Hawaii high school history.
“I need to coach better. The loss is on me,” Baldwin said. “When we win, it’s the players. When we lose, it’s the coaches and assistants. I’m so proud of our players and the way they played tonight.”
Baldwin pointed to Kahuku’s first points of the night, Gabriel Pinheiro-Alves‘ first of two field goals, as the turning point.
“We gave up 45 yards in penalties and they kick a field goal and the momentum shifted,” Baldwin said. “We never regained it. Turning over the ball twice in the fourth quarter is something you can’t do if you expect to beat a team like Kahuku.”
It sounds like Baldwin, whose Vikings have now made the state tournament two years in a row, has big plans for the BIIF champions in the future.
“We … got … one … step … closer,” Baldwin said, measuring his words. “We are hoping our preseason matchups improve. Let’s play the best the state has to offer, use it as a learning tool and a preparation for the postseason.
“You know what, after tonight, I think we’ll get a (preseason) game.”
Hilo (10-1) has certainly served notice that they can compete.
Lee Leslie’s Kahuku squad (9-2) continues on to the state semifinals next Friday against Punahou. The Red Raiders been pushed to the limits and have kept on winning with a rock-solid defense and sheer will.
Friday night was sheer will.
The Red Raiders’ Salanoa-Alo Wily looked like Dick Butkus running the ball after a fumble recovery in NFL Films. Yes, a linebacker, a position Wily doesn’t play, but he is a fearsome defensive end and, as a bull of a running back, not the first choice of players the average defender wants to tackle.
Wily’s 25-yard touchdown run tying the score 10-10 in the fourth quarter gave the whole North Shore community hope.
That man, yes, he’s a man already I think, has gone through war after war after war this season and is still standing.
As a matter of fact, Baldwin stopped his monotonous walk through the handshake line to hug Wily and offer words of encouragement.
Right around that time, a few Hilo players were heard to say, “Beat Punahou.”
The 270-pound Wily got a big help from his line, including Siotame Uluave, who the Star-Advertiser’s Billy Hull called the game’s MVP for his impact at center in the second half after moving over from tackle.
And the big boy in front of Wily had a huge impact when the game was on the line. That would be fullback Pena Fitisemanu, who blew open some holes in crunch time.
“We just looked at the scoreboard and we realized, this is our senior year and it’s time to dig deep,” Fitisemanu said. “Salanoa was running hard and I was pushing as hard as I can.”
Fitisemanu will be going up against his old school, Punahou, where he played three years before transferring to Kahuku.
“It’s going to be good, going up against my old school,” he said. “We have a lot more to prove. We’re working to get back to (playing against) Mililani.”
One thing Kahuku has going for it is the likely return of quarterback Tuli Wily-Matagi, who suffered a concussion in the OIA championship game against Mililani.
He is a senior leader and he can hurt you through the air or via the run.
Wily-Matagi was on the bench during the comeback, smiling. And without a doubt, he was thinking about one more game, at least.