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HHSAA football: Hilo sees fair fight in the trenches against Maui

Updated: 
November 4, 2017 - 12:05am

It’s not only cliche, it’s correct, Hilo’s Kuresa Toledo said

Football is decided in the trenches – and no more so than in the HHSAA playoffs.

“It’s all about controlling the line of scrimmage,” said Toledo, the Vikings standout senior defensive lineman said. “Basically, whoever wins the line of scrimmage, wins the game.”

Alternatively, Hilo’s failure to control the trenches partly can explain the BIIF champion’s failure to break through the past four years at the state’s Division I tournament.

Though Maui High figures to provide a physical test, especially on the ground, in Saturday’s semifinal at Wong Stadium, there is a sense this time around that the Vikings are picking on someone their own size.

“It’s not really a bigger challenge,” Toledo said. “We faced St. Louis, Punahou, all those different types of teams, so the plan is to go out there and do our thing.”

In the preseason, coach Hilo Kaeo Drummondo noted that, for once, the Vikings (8-1) weren’t overmatched up front they ventured outside the BIIF to take on Iolani … and voila, the Vikings won 62-35 for their first victory in Honolulu since 1975.

With the states’ three-tiered playoff system slotting the behemoths in the open division for the second consecutive season, there is an apparent level playing field in Division I.

“They’re big,” Drummondo said of Maui’s Sabers, “but I think the matchup is a fair matchup.”

Still, the Sabers (5-5) will try to assert their will with a ground attack that churned out 246.6 yards a game in going 5-3 in the Maui Interscholastic League.

According to the Maui News, a pair of sophomores powered the way. Naia Nakamoto ran for 621 yards (8.0 a carry) with eight touchdowns, and Solomone Tongi added 592 yards and six scores as the two alternated taking snaps out of the wildcat. Also lining up in the backfield is Justin Pulido (393 yards, six TDs).

“They are really aggressive and they play until the whistle blows,” said Toledo, who is among the favorites to be awarded BIIF Defensive Player of the Year.

On the opposite side of the ball, senior center Koa Kapahu hopes the Vikings can replicate the fast start they got off to in the 2016 state quarterfinals against Leilehua at Keaau High.

Of course, it all started up front.

“Line play is the most important part,” Kapahu said. “It’s pretty much the start of the game. If the O-line plays like junk, the offense plays like junk.”

Hilo’s line helped pave the way for Kahale Huddleston’s breakout game (216 yards, two TDs) against Leilehua, and though the Mules rallied for a 26-25 victory, Huddleston hasn’t slowed down since, accounting for 32 touchdowns this season.

“Maui, they do have a couple of good-sized players,” Kapahu said, “but it’s more of a mental game, so it’s who executes the fundamentals.”

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