Everyone is content, maybe even Pac-Five.
The Wolfpack finished regular-season play 6-3 in Division II play. By all accounts, they’re a team worthy of a playoff spot. But in the era of interleague play, Pac-Five is the outlier, the only program that didn’t have a chance to qualify for postseason play because its league, the ILH, didn’t have any other D-II teams.
The invigorated, interleague regular-season schedule for ILH and Oahu Interscholastic Association teams has been absorbed and embraced by fans. OIA schools that were eliminated from playoff contention drew large crowds late in the schedule, partly due to the matchups between the two unique leagues.
The loser won’t be the first ranked team to miss the state tournament. Kapolei and Waianae were ranked early in the season and missed the OIA Open Division playoffs. Kamehameha was in the Top 10 for much of the season, and needs a playoff win over highly-ranked Punahou, also on Friday, to stay alive.
The interleague experiment, a throwback success, hasn’t solved every problem. Pac-Five would have put the Wolfpack in playoff position at fourth place among the OIA and ILH participants. But as a lone entity in ILH D-II, Pac-Five is not eligible for a state berth.
Two weeks ago, a suggestion was made to Pac-Five coach Kip Botelho about possibly playing an exhibition contest, in essence a bowl game, against a Big Island Interscholastic Federation or Maui Interscholastic League title contender. The logical game date would have been the weekend of Nov. 7, one week before the state tournament kicks off.
In 1991, Damien played at Konawaena in a postseason game dubbed the MacFarms Bowl. BIIF champion Konawaena had an unusually long regular-season slate that overlapped with the Neighbor Island Football Classic. Damien, which contended for the ILH title before quarterback Francis Breckterfield suffered an injury, agreed to play the Wildcats at Julian Yates Field. Breckterfield recovered in time and led the Monarchs to a 17-6 win before a full house.
For Pac-Five, which had its best win-loss mark in a decade, the challenge of gaining approval from its multiple schools, as well as the logistics planning transportation, plus cost issues made this little more than scuttlebutt.
At least one neighbor island team, if it loses its playoff game, is willing to provide some accommodations. However, Pac-Five would not be involved. Botelho said administrators decided against a bowl game.
“As coaches and players, we’re all for it, but we knew it would be a long shot,” Botelho said.
Damien coach and co-athletic director Eddie Klaneski would have been fine with a Pac-Five postseason game.
“I think in a situation like Pac-Five, they have nothing to play for. I would’ve definitely fought for that,” said Klaneski, who is in his ninth year as head coach.
Planning out travel ventures isn’t impossible this late in the season.
“To me, it seems like doing a preseason game, except it’s postseason. Get the waiver forms, all the (approval) from your principal and athletic director. You need a couple of weeks to plan it,” Klaneski said. “It’s just like the state tournament. You don’t know where you’re going until the playoffs end. It’s more the AD and the schools agreeing. It’s really not that hard.”
Football has been a different animal since the start. The ILH has fielded teams that had no peers in their divisions before, from softball to soccer.
“Two years ago, St. Francis won (ILH) D-II and they were the only team. They went to states and lost in the championship,” Klaneski recalled. “It happens in other sports, but in football, it’s such a big sport, you can’t go in like that. It happened one year when ‘Iolani was the only team in D-I.”
That was 2016, when the Raiders lost to Mililani in the D-I state final.
“Some people were upset that they got into states, but there was no rule set in place at the time. Now there’s a rule,” Klaneski said.
As for a postseason bowl game, Pac-Five would have been a proper fit. So would a number of neighbor island teams that will finish as their league runners-up. Maybe Nov. 7 will still be a potential bowl date.
For teams that have their dreams tied to state championships, a bowl game is less likely to be attractive. Winter sports beckon. The fire that fueled state-tournament title hopes has dwindled.