WAIMEA — With two monster first half touchdown runs, Ka‘u running back Izaiah Pilanca-Emmsley set the adversity alarm off for Hawaii Preparatory Academy on Saturday.
HPA head coach Kaluka Maiava joked that his team might have hit the snooze button a few times when the bells started going, but the squad came out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the second half, responding to the challenge of a halftime deficit, pitching a shutout the rest of the way and rolling to a 26-12 victory.
“We had to dig deep. It’s nice to see that we can come from behind and battle adversity like this,” Maiava said. “When it’s the last round, you either answer the bell or quit. I was happy to see that our guys answer the bell today.”
Newly named Ka Makani team captain Umikoa Kealoha came through big for his team in the second half, reeling off 81 rushing yards and setting up a pair of short Hawaii Prep touchdown runs by Zachary Machold and Jakob Honda. Kealoha was 2 of 8 passing the ball for 50 yards with an interception and also ran in a two-point conversion.
Both of Kealoha’s completions went to junior jitterbug Justin Lina, who collected 75 yards from scrimmage and made some key plays on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“They came through for us when we needed it,” Maiava said.
However, the player of the game was Pilanca-Emmsley, who was the Ka‘u offense, rushing for 247 yards and a pair of scores.
The common sentiment that could be heard through whispers in the crowd when he got the ball: “Oh man, that No. 7 guy is fast!”
While the Trojans (0-2) did throw their first passes of the season — going a combined 3-of-8 for 61 yards — there were still not a ton of secrets about what they wanted to do. Play after play, Ka‘u lined up and Pilanca-Emmsley tried to find some running room. Sometimes when there wasn’t any, he would cut back the entire field, still managing to pick up chunks of yardage at a time.
It was a celebration when HPA managed to bring him down with a single tackler and he showed incredible breakaway speed on his touchdown runs that measured 51 and 61 yards.
While the Trojans are new to the 11-man game, Pilanca-Emmsely’s gaudy numbers are not.
According to the database at MaxPreps.com and all the players the site tracks, Pilanca-Emmsely was the national 8-man rushing leader at 293.3 yards per game. Last season he even reeled off a pair of 400-yard games.
Maiava was one of his biggest fans after the game.
“That kid is amazing. He needs a scholarship somewhere. UH better be offering that kid,” Maiava said of Pilanca-Emmsley with a smile. “We game planned for him, but my man is an amazing athlete. He’s just tremendous.”
The game took an important turn in the third quarter. The Trojans and Pilanca-Emmsley came out of the locker room following the intermission on fire, driving into a first-and-goal situation. One play later, Pilanca-Emmsley dove into the end zone for a score that would have made it 18-10, but the touchdown was called back by a penalty. Compounded with a big tackle for loss, Ka‘u faced a 3rd and 30 before eventually giving the ball back to HPA without putting points on the board.
On the ensuing possession, Hawaii Prep got some good fortune when Kealoha was able to salvage a bad snap on a 42-yard field goal and run for a first down. Instead of the three points, HPA got eight, with Machold pounding in a 11-yard run and Kealoha connecting with Lina for the two-point conversion.
Honda added a fourth quarter rushing score and with five minutes left in a two-possession game, the run-heavy Ka‘u offense simply ran out of time.
With the victory, HPA has its first 3-0 start to a BIIF season since 2010, which has some extra oomph due to the recent struggles for the program, winning just one league game over the previous three seasons. Maiava has leaned into the increased expectations and said his team is looking forward to meeting up with defending Division II champion Kamehameha-Hawaii (2-0) next Saturday in Waimea.
“It’s something new but we expected this,” Maiava said of his team’s hot start. “We are here to win. Every week we try to have high tempo and competition in practice to get ready for games like this. Next week is lining up perfect. Two undefeated teams and we get them at our house. We are ready.”
KA‘U 6 6 0 0 — 12
HPA 3 7 8 8 — 26
KAU — Pilanca-Elmsley 51 yard run (2 point run failed)
HPA — Conor Hunt 23 yard field goal
KAU — Pilanca-Elmsley 61 yard run (2 point run failed)
HPA —Tayson Hirayama 1 yard run (kick good)
HPA — Zachary Machold 11 yard run (2 point pass good)
HPA — Jakob Honda 5 yard run (2 pt run good)