Behind two goals from junior forward Preston Branco, Honokaa downed rival Hawaii Preparatory Academy 2-0, securing the No. 2 seed in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II playoffs and a 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.”
Honokaa changed up its strategy entering the game, moving senior Tony Connors from midfield to forward and putting sophomore Zechariah Ugalde in the midfield.
Mixing it up paid off for the Dragons, as the combination of Connors, Branco and Sean Perala ignited the offense, generating numerous scoring chances.
“I think this game could have easily been 6-0 with the chances we had,” Miranda said. “These guys played at a real high intensity. Zechariah did a great job inside, cementing that part of the field for us, and Tony is an all-around player for us and is very versatile.”
The game played out like a classic rivalry, with fast-paced action and lots of physicality between the teams. HPA tested the Dragons early, but Branco’s first goal in the 17th minute put Honokaa in the driver’s seat.
“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.”
HPA struggled to generate offense, and Honokaa was able to keep offensive powerhouse Kama Hurwitz in check.
“We have got to be able to be more dangerous going forward,” HPA head coach Richard Braithwaite said. “We had very few chances in the second half.”
Despite the loss, HPA goalie Trent Wise played an outstanding game in net. The sophomore keeper had a dozen highlight-reel saves and kept the game within reach for Ka Makani.
“I was incredibly impressed with the way our young keeper came out tonight,” Braithwaite said. “He was confident, came out hard, won balls on throw-ins and shutdown Honokaa on those one-on-ones. “
Wise was able to ward off the Dragons’ relentless offense until the final minute when Branco recorded his second goal, sealing the win.
Branco’s athletic ability and acceleration let him cruise past defenders and win contested balls, but his coach was more impressed with his patience, something he has been trying to instill in his talented junior forward.
“Preston wants to go 100 mph all the time, but I told him if he slows it down it will open up the field for him,” Miranda said. “His second goal was indicative of that. He waited for a lane and got a clean shot on goal.”
Ka Makani pushed the ball after Branco’s second goal, testing goalkeeper Elzer Maltezo with multiple point-blank attempts. Maltezo stepped up, turning away the shots and preserving the shutout.
“I was very happy with our boys fighting the whole game, even after that crushing goal in the final minute,” Braithwaite said.
HPA plays Ka‘u on Tuesday in the BIIF quarterfinals. A win would set up a rematch at Honokaa in the semifinals. Braithwaite said his team is not overlooking its quarterfinal matchup with Ka‘u, but knows his team is hungry for a rematch against their rivals.
“We learned a lot about them, and a lot about ourselves,” Braithwaite said. “We know the guys we have to take care of defensively and have to find a way to solve their organization in the back.”
The HPA skipper is also optimistic that with a parity-filled Division II playoff bracket, any team that gets hot has a shot to take home the title.
“I don’t see any real difference between the top teams in Division II,” Braithwaite said. “Everyone is playing so well it could go to anyone.”
Christian Liberty 8, Makua Lani 1
Louis Moylan netted a hat trick at Old Kona Airport Park as the Canefire secured an automatic berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II tournament.
The Canefire (10-3) grab the top seed in the BIIF tournament and will host either the Lions or Kamehameha on Thursday in the BIIF semifinals.
In the first round Tuesday, Makua Lani (5-6-2) and Kamehameha (6-2-5) play in Keaau.