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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveNovember 18, 2020, 5:54pm
Sat, Nov 18, 2017 @ Aloha Stadium [ 5:00 pm ]
Historic. Record-breaking. Monumental.
The 2017 prep football season was all of the above for the Hilo Vikings.
Hilo posted a 10-win campaign that year and capped it off by becoming the first neighbor island school to win a Division I state crown with its 35-19 win over Damien in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships.
The Vikings' ascent to the top of the proverbial mountain was a gradual one, to be sure, and came with its share of setbacks over a number of years. In six state tournament appearances prior to the 2017 season, they had not won a single game.
They came close though. A couple of times, in fact.
In the first round of the 2014 state tournament, Hilo led Kahuku 10-0 well into the third quarter before falling short by a final score of 20-10. Two years later — in the inaugural season of the current three-tiered classification system — Hilo held a 25-13 lead on Leilehua after three quarters, but again saw an abrupt end to their year with a one-point defeat, 26-25.
All of those hardships set the table for a hungry Vikings squad in 2017.
And they faced a most rigid test right off the bat with a non-league game at perennial postseason participant, Iolani.
If the final score was any indication, coach Kaeo Drummondo's squad passed with flying colors. Led by a stellar performance by senior running back/kick returner Kahale Huddleston, who accounted for 454 all-purpose yards and six total touchdowns, Hilo overcame a blazing hot afternoon at Kozuki Stadium to pull away for a 62-35 victory over the host Raiders.
"The whole thing about playing the (Oahu) schools is a mental hurdle that we needed (our players) to get over," said Kaeo Drummondo, who was in his third season as coach of the Vikings that year.
In his first year at the helm — when Drummondo shared interim co-coach responsibilities with Lisa Pana — Hilo opened the year with a 59-0 loss at Punahou. Six days later it hosted Kamehameha at Wong Stadium and was blanked once again, 41-0. The following season began with a 49-7 loss to Saint Louis at Wong Stadium.
"It's kind of been an intended approach for us to schedule some of those tough games," said Drummondo, a 2003 Kamehameha graduate.
Although the game against the Raiders was a non-league contest, a win was important toward the long-term growth and maturation of a senior-heavy Hilo team, Drummondo explained.
"We knew coming in that that particular team had potential, so we needed to create hurdles for them to overcome. Iolani was a big hurdle, they presented a huge obstacle because they're a great team, they're well-coached and day time in that stadium in that heat, that will present a challenge for us and if we can overcome them then the team will grow from it and we can draw upon that if we're fortunate enough to make it back to states. That was kind of a progression for them to grow, that's what scheduling that Iolani game was for," he said.
After the monumental win at Iolani to open the year, the Vikings rolled each of their first three opponents in league play by an average margin of victory of 54 points per game. However, they were dealt a setback in the form of a 24-14 loss at Konawaena.
"That was definitely a blessing in disguise because it showed us that when you make costly mistakes, it'll hurt you and that's what happened," said Drummondo, whose team turned it over five times against the Wildcats.
"It allowed us to really take a step back after that game as a staff and really ask each other, ‘What do we have to do to make sure that we continue to improve?' We knew we had hard changes to be made, but necessary changes. Hats off to Kona, they were opportunistic and they were a gritty team that year. That really grounded our players and although it ended up being sore at that moment, in the end it helped us become a better team, I believe," Drummondo said.
Hilo got back on track the following week, when it rallied with 21 fourth-quarter points en route to a 28-14 win at Kamehameha-Hawaii. A 38-18 victory over Kealakehe in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation D1 championship game extended the Vikings' winning streak to four games.
In the four-team state tournament — which did not include a representative from the Oahu Interscholastic Association — Hilo was awarded the top overall seed and a home date with Maui in the semifinal round.
The game between the Vikings and Sabers — amid rain and wet field conditions at Wong Stadium — was tied at 7 at halftime. But the hosts pulled away after the break and posted a second-half shutout on their way to the historical 26-7 win, their first-ever in the state tournament.
But for Drummondo, there was little time to celebrate.
"Coming off the Maui game and making history as far as the first D1 state-tournament win, that was a big accomplishment for the players, but we always talk about it after every game — I mean, you enjoy it for a certain period of time, but at that point we still had one game left, which was the biggest game of the season, really the biggest moment," Drummondo cautioned.
The other semifinal was played earlier in the day at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue and saw Damien rally past Kauai, 13-10, to punch its ticket to the title game.
""When we got to Sunday it was time to turn our attention to Damien and the state championship game, kind of just ground ourselves and get ready for that next challenge," Drummondo said.
Although the Monarchs were one of the few teams from the ILH that Hilo had not crossed paths with in non-league play, Drummondo had been keeping tabs on them over the course of the season.
"We kind of followed them throughout the season," he said. "We kind of knew that year that whether it was Damien or Saint Francis, they were two quality teams; they went through their battles against each other that year."
While poring game film in preparation for the Monarchs, it became evident to Drummondo what made them tick.
"The thing that stood out to me the most was the quarterback," Drummondo said of Damien senior QB Marcus Faufata-Pedrina.
He added, "You could tell that boy was a weapon and he was dangerous with his legs and equally as dangerous with his arm. He had some good playmakers around him and defensively they were well-coached and a disciplined team, but defensively it was basically about being able to corral Faufata-Pedrina."
Drummondo said it was imperative that Hilo's front seven defenders stay in their rushing lanes and not over-pursue the elusive quarterback.
"We had to be disciplined and we talked about how if he was going to beat us, we wanted to make him beat us that way and there were certain things we did with our coverages that we didn't do the entire season because we knew playing against a quarterback that can beat you with his arm and legs, that we might have to play man-coverage more than we typically do and as the game went on we adjusted where we needed to if he was getting too comfortable," Drummondo explained.
But the game started off rather ominously for the Vikings, who saw the Monarchs execute a reverse on the opening kickoff that resulted in a 96-yard return for touchdown by Akila Arecchi.
"The good thing about it is in the moment you can't dwell on it, just get the kickoff return team ready to get out there and respond, but looking back on it, yeah, to start a championship game that way is pretty crushing," Drummondo admitted. "We tell our players that we gotta start fast, but sometimes you will get punched in the mouth and your back is against the wall now and you gotta respond and that's kind of what that moment was for us."
Hilo's will would be further tested after Damien's defense forced a punt and its offense promptly turned it into an 11-play, 74-yard drive that culminated with a Faufata-Pedrina 1-yard TD run.
Drummondo said at that point, with his team trailing 13-0 with three minutes left in the first quarter, it was about refocusing his bunch.
"I remember after they scored, speaking to a couple of our seniors and letting them know that it's time to take leadership and we had to get this thing going in the right direction before it got away from us quick," he said. "We could either fold, we could we decide to reset our focus mentally, understand what we had to do, take it play-by-play, drive-by-drive, quarter-by-quarter and that's what they did."
Hilo answered with three scores before halftime. Huddleston — who went on to earn All-Hawaii First Team honors that season — found the end zone on runs of 20 and 12 yards and quarterback Kaleo Apao scampered in from 22 yards out.
The pair of seniors combined for 189 yards on 39 carries for the game.
"The biggest thing is trust, especially in big games with pressure; it's how comfortable are you with those individuals in the backfield who are going to handle the ball 75, 80, 90 percent of the time?," Drummondo asked. "Having them back there was like a comfort blanket for us. We knew with the ball in either's hands that they could make something happen. Both guys were playmakers and both guys were one missed tackle away from a big play or a touchdown."
Hilo took a 21-13 lead by halftime, but Damien pulled within 21-19 midway through the third quarter with a 19-yard TD pass from Faufata-Pedrina to Jarvis Natividad. The Monarchs kept their drive alive with a successful fake punt on fourth-and-10.
But the Vikings had an answer with Apao's 5-yard TD pass to Kainalu Tioganco just before the end of the third quarter to make it a 28-19 lead.
Hilo recorded its second fumble recovery of the game with nine minutes left in final stanza. On the play, Faufata-Pedrina completed a short pass to Arecchi, but Vikings' defensive back Micah Bello stripped it and linebacker Iosala Lavatai recovered it just outside of the red zone.
"I was kinda contemplating taking a timeout to give the kids a breather and give us a chance to re-assess the situation, but I remember the play unfolding," Drummondo recalled. "It was going for positive yards off a screen pass maybe, but Micah is a tremendous athlete and he went in, ripped the ball out and it was a huge back-breaking turnover that we were fortunate enough to recover."
On the very next play, Apao connected with Makana Kanehailua for a 21-yard TD pass.
"That was huge," Drummondo noted. "We got it back and went down and scored and gave ourselves a little breathing room."
Damien's ensuing possession was halted by another turnover, this one a interception off Faufata-Pedrina by defensive back Elijah Apao. By the time the Monarchs got the ball back there was still 5:02 to play, but their final two drives ended with a punt and a turnover on downs.
The Vikings took three kneel-downs to run out the final 1:36 on the clock.
"It was the proverbial monkey off the back, a chance to finally take a sigh of relief. It was something that we worked so hard for many years to finally accomplish," Drummondo said. "It was a great moment for our players, our team and our community, but hats off to (Damien) coach Eddie (Klaneski) for getting their guys ready. They played a great game and we were fortunate enough to create a couple turnovers to give ourselves breathing room to come out on top, but it was close and it could have been them."
Drummondo credited his veteran team for withstanding what could have been a devastating start to the game.
"Something we talk about all the time is responding to adversity. Everything is easy when the game is in your favor, but when it's not in your favor, how will you bounce back? They bounced back and made enough plays in the second half that allowed us to be victorious," he said.
Most of the seniors on the 2017 team had been in the program for four years, Drummondo pointed out.
"It took continuous work, it took losses and learning through those losses, so for them to make history was great and that will always be a special year, but they I believe they also laid the groundwork for the 2019 year," he said.
The Vikings hoisted their second state championship trophy in three seasons in 2019, when they completed a perfect 14-0 record, capped off with a thrilling 20-17 win over Iolani in the D1 state final.
Since the end of the 2019 season, Drummondo stepped down from his position as coach at Hilo. He briefly took a job as defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Kamehameha, on coach Abu Maafala's staff, but when Vikings' athletic director Kurt Kawachi left his post for another position within the DOE, Drummondo surfaced as the heir-apparent.
He was announced as the new AD at Hilo in August of this year.
"There's no complaints. I can't complain," Drummondo said of his new role. "The only negative thing I can say right now is we don't have our athletes here to be interacting with and working with on a daily basis."
Drummondo led Hilo to the BIIF title in each of his five seasons and finished with a record of 48-10 over that stretch.
"I miss the daily grind of coaching within a season, I miss practice, watching film, creating a game plan, but I can still work with the coaching staff and help develop our athletes, so I'm looking forward to getting back to normal really soon and then I can get a real taste of what the AD position is all about," he said.
A few months before Drummondo was hired, Lave Siuaunoa — who previously oversaw the Vikings' defensive line as an assistant — was tabbed to lead the football program as its new coach.
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