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HHSAA football: Konawaena gets another chance at history against Waipahu

Updated: 
November 3, 2017 - 12:05am

KEALAKEKUA — Any kind of “just happy to be here” mentality Konawaena might have once had is long gone.

The BIIF powerhouse squad has become a fixture in the final four of the HHSAA Division II tournament, and is hoping the third time will be the charm as they play host to undefeated OIA squad Waipahu today at 7 p.m. at Julian Yates Field.

“We have got accustomed to this stage of the state tournament, but we can’t take it for granted,” Konawaena head coach Brad Uemoto said.

With the new four-team tournament format, the first round was eliminated, making it a matchup of the state’s final four rather than six. The group includes the Wildcats, the OIA title winning Marauders, MIL champion and defending D-II state champion Lahainaluna and Iolani out of the ILH.

“For a BIIF team, this is rare — whether it be the new format or the old. Making it to the semifinals and the final four of your division is a great accomplishment,” Uemoto said. “But we have to start taking advantage of these opportunities.”

The Wildcats have had anything but an easy route while chasing history during the three-year run. Konawaena hosted and beat Damien for the program’s first tourney victory in 2015, advancing to the state semis before falling to eventual state champion Radford, 48-46. Last year, the Wildcats were awarded the No. 2 seed and a home game for the semifinals — the first to take place on BIIF turf in history — but ran into a hard-running Lahainaluna team that also went on to win the state title.

“There have been a lot of good lessons learned,” Uemoto said of the past years. “I think we came away from the Radford game knowing that if we play our brand of football, we could hang with anybody in the state in D-II. It set the tone for the future in terms of what kind of team we could be.”

The results on the field have been very much the same as years past, but the journey and method couldn’t have been more different.

Konawaena dropped its two preseason contests to Saint Francis and Kapaa by a combined score of 72-33, getting gashed by opponent’s running games and falling off the radar of many as a team that could contend for a state title.

But the early adversity was a major turning point for the Wildcats, who started an upward trajectory once BIIF play began, reeling off an unbeaten league season — the program’s first since 2012.

“We lost early and found ourselves. We did a good job on both sides of the ball at adjusting and kids stepped up,” Uemoto said. “We found out early what our weaknesses were and we shuffled some things around.”

Around the state, Konawaena has gained the reputation of an offensive juggernaut, led by the antics of standout senior quarterback Austin Ewing. Four contests this year that have hit or eclipsed the 40-point mark are a testament to that.

But the defense — revamped under former Kealakehe skipper and veteran football mind Sam Papalii — has been much-improved and a big reason Konawaena was able to capture a third consecutive BIIF title.

“It’s not a single-man. There are no stars. It’s all of us working together as a unit,” linebacker Michael Banagan Brock said. “We work as a group.”

Uemoto — who is the head of the Konawaena offensive brain-trust — agrees.

“We are not just overpowering people with our offense,” Uemoto said. “We are using our defense and doing enough on offense.”

That being said, Ewing has been nothing short of spectacular in his senior season leading the offense, although his numbers aren’t as gaudy as years past. He has thrown for 1,823 yards and 22 touchdowns this season, with 10 interceptions.

Since he was a sophomore, Ewing has been the center of attention for the Wildcats high-powered attack, leaving a lot of the expectations placed upon the program to fall squarely on his shoulders. However, that hasn’t weighed down the gritty QB.

“I just go out there and have fun — every night,” Ewing said. “It’s amazing walking down those stairs and in front of the crowd. You see your family and friends and want to play harder for them. It’s our last time out on this field. We are going to do everything we can to get that win.”

Playing Waipahu will be a lot like looking in the mirror for the Wildcats. The Marauders have scored a shade under 39 points per game this season, while holding opponents to just a touchdown average.

Quarterback Braden Amorozo is the arm behind the offense, totaling 2,199 yards and 26 touchdowns so far during his senior campaign with just six interceptions. He has the benefit of having a 1,000-yard rusher to share the backfield with in Alfred Failauga.

Waipahu maintained its perfect 10-0 season with a comeback effort in the OIA D-II title game, overcoming an early 15-0 deficit to eventually win 23-22 against Pearl City on Oct. 26.

“Waipahu is a very simply schemed team. They are not going to hide anything, very similar to what we do in terms of taking what the defense gives them,” Uemoto said. “And their defense is underrated because you hear so much about their offense. We will have a challenge on both sides of the ball.”

Konawaena-green banners hanging on the drive from Kona to Kealakekua that read “Believe” and “Wildcat Country” are reminders of the passion of the community behind the team. That enthusiasm will take audible form as the Wildcat seniors take to the turf of Julian Yates Field one last time in hopes of making history.

“It’s what you dream of as a kid. We have a great opportunity to play in front of this community,” Uemoto said. “I really envision catching the bus back from the airport with a trophy. That would be something special for this entire island. That’s the dream and I think if we can do all the little things, we can achieve it.”

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