Kohala breaks '35-year curse' with win over Konawaena
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
How 'bout 'dem Cowboys?
No, not those guys from Texas. The ones from the Big Island.
Since returning to Big Island Interscholastic Federation football after a 15-year hiatus, the Kohala Cowboys had lost 18 consecutive times to Konawaena. The streak extends to 25 if you count the year before they dropped the sport.
But the drought ended Saturday night, when Kohala squeaked to a 14-7 win at Julian R. Yates Field in Kealakekua.
"It's a real big thing with this community," Kohala's first-year coach Billy Rodrigues said. "We were so excited (that) we could give something back to the community. The excitement is back in town."
It was Kohala's first win against Konawaena since Oct. 13, 1972, when the Cowboys prevailed, 25-13. Up to that game, the series had been competitive with Kohala owing a 4-3-1 edge since 1968, when the Wildcats restored football after 34 years.
"The boys played hard," Rodrigues said. "We were elated to break that 35-year curse."
Because of Kohala's small enrollment — just fewer than 300 — it is classified under Division II in the BIIF. It also doesn't have a JV program. There are 35 players listed on the roster, including 11 sophomores and two freshmen.
Rodrigues was an assistant last year under Tony Manantan. Before that, he had coached most of the players on his team when they were with the Kohala Chargers Pop Warner program.
"We don't have JV, so Pop Warner is our feeder program," Rodrigues said. "They come from Pop Warner straight to the varsity."
The Cowboys lost a muffed punt early in the game that set up Konawaena's TD. But the Cowboys tied it in the second quarter before eventually winning on a 14-yard TD pass from Blaise Kise to Zeke Perry with about six minutes to play. It was only one of two passes the Cowboys (2-3 overall, 2-2 BIIF) attempted because of the muddy field conditions.
Rodrigues said the players' confidence enabled them to overcome the early turnover and deficit. That confidence slowly developed since the start of the season, when academic issues kept some players out of action. They lost a non-league game to 'Anuenue, 30-0, in Honolulu.
"They had to make adjustments," Rodrigues said. "They realized how important it is to be a team, that it takes 11 players on the field. They realized that everybody is important; that everyone has to be there. They realized how important it was to work hard in practice and to work hard in school. This is what you reap when you work hard. They realize that now."
Rodrigues said the community has been vital to the team's success. He said the parents supported fundraisers and that businesses helped with donations that made the trip to Honolulu possible.
"It was a good experience for our boys," Rodrigues said of the non-league game. "'Anuenue is a good team. We got to see where we're at."
Also, since the BIIF now plays separate Division I and Division II schedules, competition against schools of similar enrollments has made it easier for the players to develop.
"It helped our players grow," Rodrigues said. "That's what we want to do. When we see that, that's our reward."
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at email@example.com.