HONOKAA — For Honokaa, the victory formation never felt so good.
With one final knee from quarterback Malu Kanekoa, Honokaa (1-5 BIIF D-II) watched the final seconds tick off the clock as they knocked off Hawaii Preparatory Academy 14-9 on Friday night, registering the team’s first win of the BIIF season.
“It feels so good,” Kanekoa said. “We had been on a losing streak and to finally end it is amazing. The pressure was on at the end but we just had to had to stay focused and execute.”
The Dragons trailed for most of the game, taking their first lead on a fourth quarter Nalu Swift touchdown run.
Kamuela Boneza sealed Honokaa’s first win with his second interception of the game.
Swift also registered a safety in the fourth quarter, tackling Hawaii Prep (0-5) quarterback Seth Beach in the end zone.
“Heart and soul,” Honokaa head coach Noeau Lindsey said of Swift. “He’s one of those kids that will leave it all on the field. He gives his heart and soul every game, and win or lose, he should feel good about that.”
Honokaa workhorse Klayton Gascon carried the ball 15 times for 101 yards to lead all rushers in the game. Swift finished with 33 hard-earned yards.
Kanekoa completed just 2 of 5 passes for 48 yards and a score, but did most of his damage with his legs, accounting for 85 rushing yards.
“The offense has a couple things we need to work on, but it was pretty good tonight,” Kanekoa said.
Lindsey joked that his team refers to mistakes — penalties, turnovers or just boneheaded plays — as sandbags. While they certainly weren’t sandbag-free against Ka Makani, they did enough at the end to shed the weight of their mistakes and pull out this win.
“That losing streak — it felt like an eternity. It weighed on both the players and the coaching staff,” Lindsey said. “These boys battled and I’m so proud of them.”
It was a similar feeling for Honokaa senior Cody Loo, who spent most of his night blitzing and blocking.
“We have been a little down on ourselves because of the losses,” Loo said. “It felt good to finally get a win. Our team is coming together, it just sucks it’s the end of the season.”
The game was a nice change of pace from recent history. Honokaa had won the last two in the series by a combined score of 80-14. Hawaii Prep’s last win was a 23-0 shutout in 2015.
Lindsey expects the next few years to be equally exciting, especially with his good friend Albert “Paki” Cummings patrolling the sideline as Hawaii Prep’s head coach.
Cummings was hired by Hawaii Prep in the offseason and previously coached for the Dragons, along with many of his assistants.
“We were talking it up big time yesterday. We had to talk at least a little trash to each other,” Lindsey said with a laugh. “We’re still good friends. I know he wanted to put one on me tonight, but luckily we got out of here with the win. For a while there it was looking like it could go the other way.”
Special teams was the name of the game early for Hawaii Prep. Connor Hunt — who functions both as the team’s punter and kicker — pinned Honokaa at its 2-yard line with his first punt of the night.
Ka Makani moved in reverse after the Dragons’ ensuing punt, but Hunt was still game, hitting from 50 yards out.
Hawaii Prep had more points (3) than yards (2) when the ball flew through the uprights. But that’s what having a stellar special teamer like Hunt can do for a team.
He hit a 43-yard boot as an encore, and received a large cheer from the crowd when he nailed the uprights on the ensuing kickoff.
Unexpectedly, it was Hunt’s shortest try of the first half that missed from 36 yards late in the second quarter.
The Dragons capitalized on the opportunity to score points before the half, driving 80 yards in just over two minutes to tie it up.
Kanekoa’s only completions of the game came on the scoring drive. The first was a 42-yard connection with Kalai Ahuna to put the Dragons in the red zone and keep the drive alive. The next was for a 6-yard score on a play-action pass to Warren Tabucbuc with 12 seconds left in the half, tying the game at 6-6.
“That was nice to see,” Lindsey said. “We have struggled to put together drives this whole year, so that was a big one for us.”
Despite a missed PAT keeping the game tied, the Dragons headed to the locker room with something to build on. Honokaa outgained Hawaii Prep 159-75 in terms of total yardage in the first half and had six plays go for double-digit yardage.
Hawaii Prep had just one — a 34-yard screen caught by Sheldon Aribal that had a 15-yard penalty tacked on — which accounted for most of the offense.
Flags were a problem most of the night for Honokaa, but no more so than on the Dragons first possession out of the break.
A 67-yard TD run from Kanekoa on third and long was called back because of a hold. And despite picking up a first down after the score was waived off, the drive stalled from two more holding calls, which put Honokaa in a 3rd and 35 situation, nearly leading to a Ka Makani interception.
The sandbags were the heaviest at that point for the Dragons.
Honokaa resorted to a punt, which was returned by Aribal to put Hawaii Prep on Honokaa’s side of the field. However, after a long sack from Honokaa defensive lineman Gjim Gancinia it looked like Ka Makani would be turned away without points, even with Hunt’s big leg.
Beach had other ideas, connecting with Keawe Strance on a 26-yard play, making it a bit easier for Hunt to atone for his earlier miss, converting from 36 yards out to give the 9-6 lead to Ka Makani.
For the most part, the Dragons defense did the rest from there.
Boneza provided what looked to be a momentum swinging interception, but it was turned back over to Ka Makani two plays later.
However, Swift’s sack for a safety was a shot in the arm for Honokaa with time ticking away, narrowing Ka Makani’s lead to 9-8 and giving the Dragons the ball back.
With a chance to take the lead, Kanekoa kept the chains moving with slick QB runs — some by design, some not. But it was Swift who was finally able to give the Dragons their first advantage of the game, following in a host of blockers from two yards out to make it 14-9.
Hawaii Prep had just over three minutes left to try to find the end zone, but Boneza ended the night with his second interception of the game.