By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephs Media Hawaii
Behind two goals from junior forward Preston Branco, Honokaa downed rival Hawaii Preparatory Academy 2-0 on Friday, securing the No. 2 seed in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II playoffs and a valuable bye into the semifinals.
“I never want to send our guys out there and try to protect a lead. I want them just to play,” Honokaa head coach Maurice Miranda said. “We have struggled finishing all year. The win today builds our confidence heading into the playoffs. We have been doing everything right but scoring goals. I just tell the kids to keep playing and we will add it up at the end and see who has more.”
The game played our like a classic rivalry, with fast-paced action and lots of physicality between the teams.
Despite HPA controlling the ball for the majority of the first half, Branco’s first goal put Honokaa in the driver’s seat and forced Ka Makani to chase the Dragons.
“They come at you fast and hard but we were able to hold our ground,” Miranda said. “It’s the kind of game I expected with these guys. This is our archrival. No doubt about it. In the 24 years I’ve been doing this I’ve learned that we could lose every game of the season, but this is the game you play for.”
Despite the loss, HPA goaltender Trent Wise played an outstanding game in net. The sophomore keeper shut down multiple breakaway attempts and kept the game within reach for Ka Makani.
“I was incredibly impressed with the way our young keeper came out tonight,” HPA head coach Richard Braithwaite said. “He was confident, came out hard, won balls on throw-ins and shutdown Honokaa on those one-on-ones. “
Wise shut down the Dragons’ offense until the final minute, when Branco recorded his second goal, sealing the win.
Braithwaite was optimistic after the loss, and thinks a parity-filled playoff bracket leaves the BIIF title up for grabs.
“I don’t see any real difference between the top teams in Division II. Everyone is playing well,” Braithwaite said.
HPA plays Ka‘u on Tuesday, and with a win would set up a rematch at Honokaa in the BIIF semifinals.