PAHALA —Hawaii Preparatory Academy needed something to get the ball rolling in the third quarter, stuck in a 12-0 deficit to Ka’u, which had been playing smash-mouth football and monopolizing the momentum.
Then Ka Makani senior Jaysen Bragado had an electrifying 45-yard kickoff return that sparked three second-half scores in a 19-12 victory over the Trojans in a BIIF Division II game Saturday at Pahala ballpark.
With the win, HPA (6-1 BIIF, 6-1 overall) secured a spot in the BIIF championship against Kamehameha (6-0, 7-3), after finishing winless last season.
“It was hard fought. It wasn’t the prettiest, but we came back and didn’t give up,” HPA quarterback Umi Kealoha said. “That return was huge for us. It changed the momentum.
“We’re excited. It’s amazing that we’re in this position. I’m thankful for our coaches.”
In the revamped BIIF Division II with the 8-man programs moving up, Ka’u (2-4, 2-4) is still taking its lumps.
But the game didn’t start that way. The Trojans scored on the opening drive, a 13-play, 80-yard march, with all the yards coming on the ground, capped by Keliikoa Reyes-Nalu’s 15-yard score.
After a scoreless second quarter, Ka’u capitalized on a Ka Makani turnover, running up the middle on quarterback keepers on a nine-play, 56-yard drive, capped by Luke Watson’s 8-yard touchdown.
At that point, it felt like the Trojans had the momentum and were on their way toward an upset. (HPA won the first meeting 26-12.)
But Bragado busted loose and gave HPA possession at the Ka’u 29. Four plays later, Zachary Machold scored on a 7-yard run.
“That was the largest return of the year,” HPA coach Kaluka Maiava said. “Jaysen is a senior, and he’s back from injury. He’s been here since freshman year, and we’re fortunate to have him come back.”
In the fourth, Machold, a slippery junior slotback, scored on a 30-yard run. The PAT attempt failed, but Ka Makani led 13-12.
The Trojans attempted to run for both PAT attempts and got stuffed.
Then Kealoha delivered the dagger on the next possession when he fired a 50-yard touchdown strike to Javan Perez with 2:49 left.
The Trojans didn’t complete any passes in seven attempts, much like their dominant 8-man days when they won three titles from 2016 to 2018.
But the three rotating quarterbacks went wild with keepers up the middle. Reyes-Nalu, a sophomore, ran for 97 yards on 23 carries, junior Izaiah “Bobby” Pilanca-Emmsley rushed for 40 yards on six attempts, and Watson, a senior, went for 95 yards on 11 carries.
“My defensive coaches did a good job,” Ka’u coach DuWayne Ke said. “We’re a young team. We’ll be ready next year, and it’ll be different.”
Kealoha was a dual threat. He was 5 of 7 for 101 yards and a TD and rushed for 55 yards on six carries. Machold gained 111 yards on 11 attempts. Perez caught two balls for 68 yards.
“Umi has really stepped up,” Maiava said. “He’s taken his senior leadership seriously. He’s another who’s been here since a freshman and waited to get his snaps. Now, he’s reaping the rewards of hard work and dedication.”
HPA 0 0 7 12 — 19
Ka’u 6 0 6 0 — 12
Ka’u — Keliikoa Reyes-Nalu 15 run (run failed)
Ka’u — Luke Watson 8 run (run failed)
HPA — Zachary Machold 7 run (Conor Hunt kick)
HPA — Machold 30 run (kick failed)
HPA — Javan Perez 50 catch from Umi Kealoha (run failed)