By MATT GERHART
Stephens Media Hawaii
HONOKAA — A pedestrian first half that included a fumble left Devin Preston afraid for what Waiakea might be facing in its Big Island Interscholastic Federation football opener.
“I’ll admit, I was scared,” he said.
Running with an edge, he and Waiakea pulled away from Honokaa.
Preston reeled off two long touchdown runs in the second half and played a key role in a defensive stand Friday night as the Warriors shut out the Dragons 15-0.
Preston raced up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter as Waiakea (2-1, 1-0 BIIF Division I) finally got a little breathing room, and he accounted for 116 of his 143 yards in the second half.
“I just had to keep my a head up and do it for my team,” Preston said. “This wouldn’t happen without my lineman.”
The Dragons (0-2, 0-1 BIIF Division I) did an admirable job on defense much of the night, holding Waiakea to just 257 yards of offense.
“He was going to break one (eventually),” Honokaa coach Bobby Embernate said.
On 11 of his 21 carries, Preston was held to 1 yard or less. But on his last carry, he bounced to the outside for a 40-yard jaunt to all but put the game away.
“Just keep going, never stop,” he said.
Both teams relied heavily on their ground games and combined to complete only six passes.
It was just the type of smash-mouth affair that Waiakea linebacker Saeki Nisa cherishes.
“Honokaa is pretty powerhouse with there running,” the senior said after his unit held Honokaa to 251 yards. “We closed gaps pretty good, the front 7.”
Though seeing 315-pound lineman Shane Batalona line up in the backfield wasn't exactly what he had in mind.
“No. 55 … wow,” said Nisa, who is listed at 6-feet, 226 pounds.
Trailing 8-0, Sione Epenesa’s 54-yard run and an ensuing penalty set the Dragons up with a first and goal at the 5 with a chance to get back in the game early in the fourth quarter.
With Batalona in as part of a jumbo wishbone package, Waiakea stopped Epenesa and senior Wayne Vaoga for no gains, and then Nisa and Shane Picanco teamed up to slow Batalona.
“When he got the ball he could have bounced his way in, but we he didn’t let him get any steam going,” Nisa said.
On fourth down, Preston ranged to his right to cut off quarterback Nainoa Falk and drove him out of bounds at the 3.
“We just play stonewall defense,” Preston said.
Honokaa found its best success in the wishbone, totalling 236 rushing rushing. Alternating between quarterback and running back, Epenesa carried the attack. The junior netted 148 yards, including 125 in the second half, on 21 carries.
Vaoga added 70 yards on the ground, while Nainoa Falk, a sophomore, was 2 for 9 for 16 yards and two interceptions.
Junior defensive back Zan Correa picked off his third pass this year, counting the preseason, and Tyson Pasco-Brown thwarted a Honokaa threat in the first half with an interception.
Coming off a 39-15 loss to Waiakea last weekend at Wong Stadium in a game that featured seven Honokaa turnovers, Embernate saw improvement from his squad.
“I was really impressed with how the young kids keep fighting,” he said. “They don’t give up. I’m happy with he kids improving.
“The quarterback play will come with extra time.”
Honokaa had problems with its punt game. A botched snap over the head of Preston Branco gave Waiakea a safety and turned out to be the only points of first half. And another mishandled exchange set up Preston’s second TD run.
Waiakea junior quarterback Kayed Rodrigues completed 3 of 14 passes for 21 yards, while backup Bryce Felipe was 1 of 2 for 14 yards.
While Preston struggled a bit in the first half as Honokaa keyed on him, junior Pony Lanford managed to run for 63 yards.
“Hopefully our passing game picks up,” Waiakea coach Moku Pita said. “Our QB was a little off today.”
Waiakea 2 0 6 7 — 15
Honokaa 0 0 0 0 — 0
Wai — Safety, snap over the head of punter, 10:23
Wai — Devin Preston 60 run (kick failed), 7:11
Wai — Preston 40 run (Tyler Kerr kick), 2:28