KAILUA-KONA — Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani admits his team’s 28-6 win against Honokaa on Saturday night at Waverider Stadium wasn’t flawless, but he won’t be needing to look at the box score to see where his team excelled.
“We wanted to make sure the boys carried the right character and attitude into this game, and they did,” Kekuaokalani said. “That was the biggest takeaway for us. We weren’t perfect, but the boys focused in on the task and got it done.”
Riggs Kurashige led the way for the Waveriders’ offense, carrying the ball eight times for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation regular-season opener for both teams. He also caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Kaimi Wilson in the fourth quarter.
Ini Paio contributed 44 yards on the ground and Tuitahi Faleofa-Taumoefolau added a few crucial carries.
“That is what we wanted to do,” Kekuaokalani said. “Riggs, Ini, Tui — I think we have a real good core of runners. We have nice depth on our whole offense.”
On defense, Kobe Antolin recorded seven tackles and 2 1/2 sacks for the Waveriders (1-0 BIIF, 1-1). Rylen McComber added six tackles and two sacks, and junior defensive back Klien Hao racked up eight tackles, and the Waveriders’ only interception.
“The linebackers were active,” Kekuaokalani said. “The defensive backs did well and made the plays they needed to, and the D-line held it together.”
For the Dragons, it was not the result head coach Morgan “Hana” Hanohano had hoped for, but the first-year coach was satified with his team’s effort.
“One touchdown — we did better than last year already,” Hanohano joked (the Dragons recorded only six points in the BIIF regular season last year). “This is our first game. We had no preseason. We had two scrimmages, but those were just scrimmages. I’m happy about where this program is at and seeing how the boys have changed. They play as a team and never give up.”
Honokaa quarterback Nainoa Falk finished 10-of-20 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown, as well as a handful of yards on the ground.
The Waveriders had just 28 yards on offense in the first quarter, but Louie Garcia sparked Kealakehe with an 80-yard punt return down the sideline.
“It was a great start,” Kekuaokalani said. “We were a little shaky before then. It was a big run by Louie to get us going.”
The Waveriders sustained their next drive with contributions from the running back committee of Kurashige, Paio and Faleofa-Taumoefolau. Early in the second quarter, Kurashige found the end zone on a 9-yard cutback run. A two-point conversion run by Paio made up for an earlier missed extra point, giving Kealakehe a 14-0 lead.
Honokaa (0-1, 0-1) ran a Wing T offense for most of the first quarter, pounding away for short gains with multiple runners, but stalled in the second quarter.
“The run was going good. We probably should have gone to it a little more, but wanted to try to to see what our passing game had,” Hanohano said.
Honokaa got that when Falk, taking advantage of Kealakehe blitzing its safeties and single coverage on the outside, threw a 62-yard pass to Kanen Ventura.
Neither team moved the ball with any effectiveness in the third quarter, but just minutes into the fourth, Kealakehe struck on a 33-yard lob pass from the backup QB Wilson to Kurashige.
Wilson came in midway through the third quarter in relief of starter Markus Degrate. Kekuaokalani said the decision was not because of lack of production.
“I think Markus did a great job for us,” Kekuaokalani said. “He just needs the reps and to get some experience. He has got a good arm, it’s just finding the place for it. Kaimi is a gamer and took advantage of what the defense gave us.”
Degrate finished 2 for 5 for eight yards. Wilson threw just four times for 36 yards — 33 coming on the touchdown pass.
With 1:30 left in the game, Kurashige broke loose for a a 33-yard scamper — his largest run of the day — to seal the win for the Waveriders.
The Dragons offense and defense stepped up against a Division I opponent, but self-inflicted wounds hurt Honokaa in the second half. Penalties and fumbles had the Dragons facing long yardage on a regular basis.
“We could never get momentum. It was a killer for us,” Hanohano said. “But the boys still played all four quarters and never gave up. They faced first-and-35, and never gave up. I’m very proud of these boys.”
Dealing with depth also became a problem. At one point, nearly a half-dozen Dragons were being treated for cramps. With a roster of just more than 30 players, anyone being sidelined is a problem.
“The depth in our bench is a little shy, but we can work on our conditioning,” Hanohano said.
Where the Dragons didn’t lack depth was in the stands. Honokaa fans came out in force to Waverider Stadium, most proudly sporting Honokaa apparel.
“The pride is back,” Hanohano said. “It has been awesome and I thank them for coming all the way out to Kealakehe to support us.”
Next week, Honokaa is on the road again to Waiakea. Kealakehe travels to HPA.
Honokaa 0 6 0 0 — 6
Kealakehe 6 8 0 14 — 28
Kealakehe — 80 punt return by Louie Garcia (Ari Mench PAT blocked), 1:21
Riggs Kurashige 9-yard touchdown run. Ini Paio 2-point conversion, 8:25
Nainoa Falk 62-yard pass to Kanen Ventura. (PAT blocked by Garcia), 5:52
Kaimi Wilson 33-yard pass to Kurashige (Mench PAT good), 10:26
Kurashige 33-yard run (Mench PAT good), 1:30