They almost pulled it out, this unsung team from Konawaena.
Coming within a 2-point conversion of tying the game in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats’ 48-46 loss to No. 2 seed Radford is probably the most entertaining game I’ve seen this season. (Note: I was not at the crazy 51-45 overtime game between Punahou and Saint Louis in the ILH’s first round.) Konawaena may have played its best game of the year and still fell a few PATs short. They are the kind of team I would love to see again. They brought Radford the kind of test that should make the Rams better.
In the process, fans got to see some tremendous, clutch play by both sides. It’s been awhile since I started covering prep sports, but it never gets old. Games like this are Instant Classics.
Immediately after the game ended, all the Wildcats’ fans could do was stand and applaud their team until they approached the bleachers to sing their alma mater. It wasn’t a moral victory, but morale may never have been higher all season despite the loss. Countless leg cramps, a number of injuries, even mental errors on defense that gave a potent Radford offense (nearly 600 total yards) more breaks than it needed — none of that seemed to matter. The Wildcats kept coming and coming, and by game’s end, when time ran out, I couldn’t help but wonder — this may have come down to who had the ball last with enough time.
For Konawaena, a 5-minute drive by Radford all but ate up the clock and the Wildcats’ final hope. Twelve seconds was simply not enough for super sophomore Austin Ewing to march his team 96 yards for a winning score.
Still, it’s a bright finish to the season for Konawaena in Brad Uemoto’s first year as head coach. The Wildcats scored 42 in a win over Damien last week, then 48 against Radford. A talented crew of seniors will depart with the memory of a special season: 11 wins, just two very close losses, and one came against the No. 9-ranked team in the state, Radford.
Ewing, just a sophomore, finished 21-for-36, 272 yards, five touchdowns and just one pick. He showed remarkable poise in a complex offense. Senior Algene Kelekolio tried mightily. He rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 48-42 win over Damien. he finished with 44 yards and a TD on 11 carries against Radford.
“We knew they were going to bring pressure and we were going to have a hard time running the ball,” Uemoto said. “Our plan was to throw the quick pass, wear them down a little bit and then try to test the interior of the line and see if we could get some runs off and sneak ’em in. They’re just so big and physical inside. We just had a hard time pushing people around.”
Kelekolio had two receptions for 22 yards, including a 15-yard TD.
“Algene did a great job when he got opportunities, making plays when he caught the ball,” Uemoto said.
“Radford threw multiple coverages at us. They blitzed us heavy in the middle and played us some soft man. We saw some 2-read, a little bit. We tried to take what they gave us,” Uemoto said. “The heart that our defense and offense played with is something all of Kona can be proud of. We were just two points short tonight.”
Ewing, who is also a basketball standout, was with his teammates as they hugged and shook hands after the game. The season is officially over for the Wildcats.
“Even when we were down, we were helping each other out to get better,” Ewing said. “We didn’t win on the scoreboard, but we played our hearts out. Big shout out to my line. They held it down for me. No sacks tonight.”
Field position made all the difference in the final moments. Radford’s long drive ended at the Konawaena 4-yard line with just 12 seconds left on the clock. All the Wildcats could do was take yardage in the middle of the field: a 12-yard scramble by Ewing, and then an 18-yard completion that didn’t develop as planned.
“We had a trick play designed, but it just crumbled. Our receiver kind of slipped at the line so I had to try and make something happen,” Ewing said. “We play as a team out there, no matter what. This is fuel for our fire. We’re going to come back for our seniors. We’re going to work harder. This was a good experience for us.”
The 5-foot-10, 150-pound quarterback was unbeaten — he did not play in a road loss to Kamehameha-Hawaii at midseason — until Saturday. Since an 18-6 win over St. Francis to begin preseason, Konawaena’s scoring totals with Ewing at QB were astronomical: 32 points against Kauai, 57 on Waiakea, 34 on Hilo, 54 on Keaau, 39 on Kealakehe, 41 against Hawaii Prep, 50 against Honokaa, 36 on Honokaa in the playoffs and 44 on the KS-Hawaii team that had blanked Konawaena while Ewing and a key receiver were out with injury.
There are key returnees coming back next year. Defensive backs Jordan Kikugawa and Kalai Santiago (5-11, 145, Fr.) will return. Also returning next season will be leading receiver Kamakana Ching (6-1, 170), though the next three top pass catchers — Cameron Howes, Tristan Fleming-Nazara and Kayson Mahiai — will graduate in June. Who steps into their places? Only Uemoto and his staff can imagine. But there’s this: they have the potential to become the best passing attack at Konawaena since Jim Barry was head coach and Aaron Sumida — who passed for more than 3,000 yards as a senior — was quarterback. Those 1980s Wildcats with slingers like Sumida, and then Lance Kobayashi, put Konawaena football on the map with a near-upset of then-No. 1 Saint Louis in an exhibition game at Aloha Stadium before one of the Prep Bowls.