Keaau’s Bryant Respicio-Mercado looked left and gave a pump-fake, then he quickly turned to his right and fired a touchdown pass to a streaking receiver.
It was a smooth play that Respicio-Mercado might not have been able to pull off last year.
“I’ve gained more confidence throwing,” he said, “but it takes time to do that.”
In a league with its fair share of inexperience, it’s nice for the Cougars to have a senior in control.
Respicio-Mercado threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score Saturday as Keaau cruised past Waiakea 52-14 in a BIIF Division I football game at Ken Yamase Memorial Stadium.
“There is a lot of trust in Bryant,” co-coach Ian Van Cleave said, “but I expect a lot of him, too. I don’t let him run whatever he wants.”
With the Cougars nursing a big lead in the second half, Van Cleave pulled his starter for a down after the running play he wanted didn’t materialize.
“We’re trying to compete at that upper level and we’re not their yet,” Van Cleave said. “So I still demand a lot from (Bryant).”
Keaau got a glimpse of the upper level in Week 1 and it didn’t go well in a 56-0 loss to Hilo in which the Cougars gave up myriad big plays.
“We were sharper, we just executed how we should and how we know we can,” Van Cleave said. “We didn’t do that last week, even the simple things, but we cleaned it up.”
The Cougars (1-1) took control by scoring on four consecutive possessions spanning the first and second quarters. Respicio-Mercado threw for 178 yards, including two scoring tosses to Shaden Abejon in the first half, before Keaau turned primarily to its ground game in the second half and got rushing scores from D’Shane Bannister and Carlos Lopez. Respicio-Mercado fit his final touchdown pass, a 9-yarder to Malachi Soriano, into a tight window in the third quarter.
For the Warriors (0-3, 0-2 BIIF), it would be nice just to have a healthy quarterback.
With starter Justin Nakamoto-Baltazar out with an injury and two more quarterbacks sustaining injuries in the first half, Waiakea was essentially down to its fifth-string option when coach Neil Azevedo went looking for a quarterback at halftime. Linebacker Elijah Iwaoka-Troutman raised his hand.
“He said, ‘I can throw,’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go,”’ Azevedo said.
Iwaoka-Troutman threw two touchdown passes in the second half, including a 42-yarder to Samson Thomas, but he was intercepted twice, with Masen Silva taking his pick back 30 yards for a score.
Keaau forced five turnovers – Donovan Hernandez and Kasai and also had interceptions – and held Waiakea to just 123 yards of offense, including only 10 on the ground.
“This should give us momentum, but we still have to work hard every week,” Respicio-Mercado said.
His longest pass play, a 50-yarder to Kasai, set up his short touchdown run to open the scoring.
The Warriors’ five full possessions in the first half netted only one first down, and that came via penalty, and Bronson Respicio-Mercado’s 16-yard touchdown run put Keaau ahead 27-0 entering halftime.
“Our passing game was good, we were able to be successful in the air,” Van Cleave said. “We need to be able to dot that, paired with our running game, to be successful.”
Lopez ran for 61 yards, ripping off a 50-yard score, Bryant Respicio-Mercado added 42 yards and Keaau finished with 180 on the ground behind eight different ball-carriers.
Waiakea also was missing fleet-footed receiver Kamaha’o Ka’ilipaka to injury. In his absence, Thomas was a one-man highlight crew, making a one-handed grab on a fourth-and-long to keep a scoring drive alive along with several plays on special teams and defense, rarely coming off the field.
“He can do everything, and he still has a smile on his face, too,” Azevedo said. “I was just happy the boys didn’t give up. Even though they were getting hurt, they we’re still coming back.”
Keaau 7 20 13 12 –52
Waiakea 0 0 8 6 –14
Keaau — Bryant Respicio-Mercado 1 run (Masen Silva kick)
Keaau – Shaden Abejon 21 pass from Respicio-Mercado (Bronson Respicio-Mercado pass from Silva)
Keaau – Abejon 11 pass from Bryant Respicio-Mercado (run failed)
Keaau — Bronson Respicio-Mercado 16 run (run failed)
Waiakea – Samson Thomas 42 pass from Elijah Iwaoka-Troutman (Ethan Correa run)
Keaau – Silva 30 interception return (kick failed)
Keaau — Malachi Soriano 9 pass from Bryant Respicio-Mercado (Silva kick)
Keaau — D’Shane Bannister 26 run (kick failed)
Keaau – Carlos Lopez 50 run (pass failed)
Waiakea – Matthew McBraun 27 pass from Elijah Iwaoka-Troutman (run failed)