Resilient Konawaena holds on to beat Saints

Konawaena's Ka'ano'i Kelekolio-Rivera caught a touchdown pass in a thrilling 23-22 win over St. Francis. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Konawaena’s Ka’ano’i Kelekolio-Rivera caught a touchdown pass in a thrilling 23-22 win over St. Francis. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Konawaena didn’t need to be perfect in its season opener. The Wildcats just needed to be resilient.

The nerves were expected as the Wildcats opened the season on the road. In a back-and-forth game against St. Francis on Friday, Konawaena rallied and held on for a 23-22 win.

“I’m definitely proud of them,” Konawaena coach Brad Uemoto said. “We definitely had some rust coming in. That’s just being the first game and playing a great opponent. And that team is well coached, give them a lot of credit tonight.

“We definitely have a lot of kinks to work out. I told these boys at halftime that we didn’t expect to be prefect coming in, we just got to be resilient. We got to keep fighting and that’s how they did.”

Konawaena quarterback Austin Ewing completed 30 of 53 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns in the game played at Leilehua. He also threw five interceptions.

St. Francis’ Wembley Mailei returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown in the second quarter. Mailei later put the Saints ahead 22-16 with 6:08 left in the third quarter on a 3-yard score.

“First-game jitters for sure,” Ewing said. “We just had a couple guys go down and we always have the next man come up and they did great.”

Uemoto reminded Ewing to focus less on the interceptions to guide the Wildcats to the win.

“Austin, he gets a lot of credit when he does good things,” Uemoto said. “Tonight, he had an off night and they had a great scheme for him. More than what Austin did bad, it was more of what St. francis did good. I’m just proud of Austin for sticking in there.

“I told him at the end of the day, no matter how many interceptions you throw, it’s a matter of that quarterback leading his team back to a win and that’s all that counts.”

The Wildcats intercepted a St. Francis pass to start the fourth quarter and quickly capitalized on the turnover. A minute later, Micah Laban’s 9-yard score tied the game at 22. Harry Hill’s PAT gave the Wildcats a 23-22 lead with 10:45 left in the game.

“Our defense stepped up and covered our offense tonight,” Uemoto said. “Usually it’s the other way around, but it’s good to see that we can do it on the other side of the ball. I’m just proud of that group and for our offense.”

The one-point lead was enough for the Wildcats to hold off a final rally from Saints.

“We’re a second-half team with our tempo,” Ewing said. “We try to wear them out in the first half and see what they got in the second half, if they can stick with us — which they did. They did a great job. It’s all in inches and we got that last inch to win the game.”


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