HANAPEPE — Cody Taniguchi lit the fuse to an explosive opening play Saturday night at the Hanapepe Stadium when Waimea hosted Pac 5 of Honolulu.
Snug behind a pocket of defenders, Taniguchi snared the opening kickoff, and following an 80-yard upfield romp behind blocking and shaking off Wolfpack defenders, cruised into the end zone.
Justin Fune booted the point-after to give Waimea a 7-0 lead following the opening whistle.
The effort fell short as the Wolfpack lit up the airways, and banking behind the foot of sophomore kicker, Tyler Fukuroda, took a 10-7 edge before a crowd which was only slightly depleted from the distractions of the neighboring kachi-kachi dance and the free concert at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Mana.
“Cody Taniguchi,” said Pac 5 coach Kip Botelho. “Who is he? He is one good football player, and we never kicked to him the rest of the game.”
Following the explosive game-opening play, the Menehune and Wolfpack dug in for a defensive slugfest, both sides exchanging punts.
“We dropped a lot of balls,” Botelho said. “More than we wanted to. The Waimea defense was tough. They took away our underwing and we had to run the ball — more than we wanted to. It was either run and go deep.”
Wolfpack quarterback Kainoa Ferreira worked his bag of tricks fully, mixing plays with passes, keepers and an occasional handoff to runners Jarrod Infante (who also pulled in his share of passes) and Royce Angelo doing most of the ground pounding against a bigger Menehune defense.
Ferreira found his go-to receiver Jett Uechi, another sophomore, on a pass play at the 4:54 mark in the opening quadrant to break into Menehune territory, the ball settling on the Waimea 40-yard line for a first-and-10 after starting the drive on its own 47-yard line.
Another Ferreira to Uechi connection settled the ball just short of the end zone on the Menehune 10-yard line for a first-and-10 with 3:18 showing.
Ferreira, a junior, pushed up the middle to the 2-yard line before swinging to the rightside for the score with 2:17 showing in the first quarter.
Fukuroda split the uprights for the 7-7 stalemate which stood until the fourth quarter when the sophomore kicker split the poles on a 26-yard field goal for the go-ahead.
“This was a good test of our defense,” said Waimea coach Jason Keahi Caldeira Jr. “The Wolfpack showed us a lot of our flaws and what we need to work on before we play against Kauai or Kapaa. As I’ve said before, we have a young, enthusiastic bunch of players, and we need to work hard, especially now, because we next face Kauai in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation. We need to start working, and it starts with ourselves.”
During the 7-7 deadlock which spanned more than two quarters, the Menehune defense was tested when the Wolfpack opened the second quarter on a drive which ended on the Waimea 2-yard line fueled by a long pass from Wolfpack’s Ferreira to Clayce Akeo. The Waimea defense came up holding Pac 5 outside the elusive end zone plane, preserving the 7-7 stalemate at the break.
The Menehune defense also forced the field goal attempt in the fourth quarter when Pac 5, plagued with yellow flag fever, stumbled through before Ferreira broke the fever on a pass to Infante for a fourth-and-nine, giving the call to the 10th grade kicker who stood out during warmups with his repeated kick attempts from the neighborhood of the 20-yard line.
The yellow flag came out to bite the Menehune and the Wolfpack was given four more tries at the end zone before Fukuroda sealed Waimea’s fate from 26 yards out.
“We played a humble game,” Caldeira said. “Cody Taniguchi is still our No. 1 option and can come up with the big plays. But he can’t do it alone. When he takes the lead, the other guys need to step up to back him up. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Botelho was pleased with his road trip.
“This was a really good game,” the Pac 5 coach said. “Not only was it a good game for four quarters, we need these trips to get the team to bond. We’re just a bunch of little schools coming together to form a team. They need to bond as a team. The atmosphere before a standing audience is beautiful. We usually play at Aloha Stadium and you can’t find this atmosphere there.”
The coach said Waimea hosts a first-class program.
“Playing at Hanapepe Stadium is a great way for our kids to get to know each other better,” Botelho said. “Waimea has a first-class program — Coach Caldeira came to the airport to pick up our equipment, and the hospitality of the Kauai people is the best. I’m talking with him to see if we can come back to play again.”