As a wide receiver, Justin Perry recognized his coverage, so he and Koa Ellis alternated the route midplay.
At cornerback, Perry saw chaos in the backfield and detected vulnerability.
Perry read quarterbacks perfectly Saturday at Wong Stadium, and he’s no less comfortable when the ball is coming his way.
Ellis threw one of his two first-half touchdown tosses to Perry, who also intercepted a pair of passes as Hawaii Preparatory Academy feasted on five Waiakea turnovers to hold on for a 14-6 victory to close out the Big Island Interscholastic Federation football preseason.
“We showed toughness today,” Perry said of a Ka Makani squad that lost in the final minute last weekend against Waimea on Kauai. “That’s not HPA football, losing in the fourth quarter. We had some pride today. We can’t lose late in the game. That’s not who we are.”
Not that Ka Makani (1-1) didn’t have to sweat this one out.
Waiakea’s Hunter Rapoza hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Mahaulu in the third quarter. Then Rapoza inexplicably got behind the defense again inside the 5 on a fourth-and-48 on the Warriors’ final possession, but the pass fell harmlessly incomplete.
“I saw a pile of guys, but I didn’t see (Rapoza) behind them,” said Perry, a sophomore. “That’s always tough.”
Looking to replace BIIF Division II Offensive Player of the Year Bobby Lum, Ka Makani used seven ball-carriers to amass 137 yards on the ground, though only 17 of those came in the second half.
Ellis, entering his third year as starter, was 12 of 22 for 165 yards and threw an interception.
“I thought we did a good job of distributing the ball on offense and mixing run and pass,” coach Jordan Hayslip said. “I was happy with the way we ran the ball.”
Perry’s first interception set HPA on a 65-yard drive, which Ellis finished with a 4-yard scoring pass to Nicky Palleschi for a 14-0 lead.
On the opening drive of the game, HPA went 75 yards, with Ellis and Perry connecting three times, including an 11-yard scoring pass. The play began with Perry intending to run an out, but he and Ellis switched to a flag route on the fly.
Palleschi caught six passes for 81 yards, and Perry added five catches for 68.
“We have great chemistry,” Perry said. “Great receiving corps, great quarterback, and hopefully it opens up the run game for us.”
Both of Waiakea’s quarterbacks, Bryce Felipe and Mahaulu, saw their first action of the preseason. The pair combined to complete four passes and throw three interceptions.
With Anthony Palleschi acting as a disruptive force on the defensive line, Ka Makani compiled three sacks.
The Warriors didn’t get past midfield until Mahaulu ripped off a 45-yard run in the third quarter, but the drive ended when Perry cut in front of his man and picked off a scrambling Felipe near the goal line.
Pono Auwae set up Waiakea in HPA territory three times in the fourth quarter, first with a 30-yard run on a fake punt and twice more on nifty punt returns. But two of the drives ended on turnovers, including an interception by John Bodie Freitas.
Auwae finished with 100 of his team’s 162 yards on the ground.
“Pono stood out,” Waiakea coach Moku Rita said. “He knows how to read his blocks. But the linemen need to block better, and the quarterbacks have to learn how to pass better.
“We switched up our defense and they didn’t score again. I’m glad we have preseason.”
Zac Correa had an interception and a fumble recovery for Waiakea (0-2), which opens its season Friday at Wong against Keaau.
On Saturday, HPA will be back at Wong to face Hilo.