By KEVIN JAKAHI
Stephens Media Hawaii
HILO — Even when Konawaena's stars shine a little less brightly, the Wildcats and their up-tempo offense still put on a show, and almost every single time their defense does the same.
Kona took advantage of six turnovers, turning three into touchdowns, in a 44-7 win over Waiakea in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation football game on Friday night at Wong Stadium, spoiling the Warriors' homecoming and securing the top seed in the playoffs.
The Wildcats (6-1 overall, 5-0 BIIF) locked up the No. 1 seed in the BIIF Division II four-team playoffs and will host the semifinals and possibly the championship.
The Warriors (2-5, 2-3) still have a shot for the No. 2 seed in the BIIF Division I playoffs and a chance to host in the semifinals.
But for 48 minutes, the Wildcats were too much for the Warriors, even when Kona wasn't at its best.
For example, first-year kicker John Replogle wasn't perfect. He barely missed a 46-yard field in the fourth quarter, when Kona led 37-7. He was 3 of 4 on PAT attempts.
But the positive far outweighed the negative.
In the first quarter, the Wildcat senior blasted a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter with room to spare, setting a school record. In the second quarter, he added field goals of 45 and 23 yards.
Kona quarterback Brandon Howes was 16 of 33 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His timing and accuracy were not firing on all cylinders with his receivers. He rushed for only 32 yards on nine carries.
But what the stats don't show is his two-part package: his pocket awareness and mobility to run from trouble. Several times, he turned potential sacks into modest gains and kept moving the chains.
Waiakea linebacker Shane Picanco had the only sack against Kona's fast-improving offensive line. Zac Correa's nose for the football led to two interceptions against Howes.
But the Kona QB's completions kept the Warriors on their toes, forcing the host team to guard against the run and pass. That opened up space for Luca Vartic, who had three catches for 69 yard, including a 45-yard touchdown reception.
That's another thing about the Wildcats. When stars don't shine, someone else steps up.
In last week's 22-21 win over Hawaii Prep, Kona receiver Chase Takaki toasted the Ka Makani secondary for 155 yards on only five catches. He had two receptions for 18 yards against Waiakea; Vartic replaced his production.
The visitor's running game didn't do a whole lot of damage. Bubba Ellis-Noa finished with 56 yards on 13 carries. But who needs big yards when you keep scoring touchdowns? He scored on runs of 21 and 3 yards.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats did a defensive number on Waiakea's running game, holding Devin Preston to 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half. He finished with 87 yards on 25 carries.
The Wildcats were sound in their pass defense, too.
Warrior quarterback Bryce Felipe was 0 of 4 with two picks. Kayed Rodrigues came in relief and was 6 of 16 for 102 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Evyn Yamaguchi had two interceptions, and Gabe Trevino had Kona's other pick, which he returned for a 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
One other good habit for the Wildcats is their ability to win the turnover battle. They had two harmless giveaways. The Warriors had six, and three of them were quickly converted into scores.
Kona 10 13 14 7 — 44
Waiakea 0 7 0 0 — 7
Kona — FG John Replogle 47, 6:27
Kona — Makoa Chapa 1 run (Replogle kick), 5:40
Kona — FG Replogle 45, 11:38
Kona — Luca Vartic 45 pass from Brandon Howes (kick failed), 5:26
Wai — Keala Fong 22 pass from Kayed Rodrigues (Tyler Kerr kick), :38
Kona — FG Replogle 23, :03
Kona — Bubba Ellis-Noa 21 run (Dishon Cho run), 9:27
Kona — Ellis-Noa 3 run (Replogle kick), 1:15
Kona — Gabe Trevino 28 interception return (Replogle kick), 8:39