HANAPEPE — The Waimea Menehune couldn’t move the ball for 46 minutes Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Kaua‘i Red Raiders, there are 48 minutes in a game.
Down 3-0 in the fourth quarter, Waimea quarterback Niko Delos Reyes hit Jonathan Tangalin for a 60-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 remaining to send the Menehune to a 6-3 win over the Red Raiders on Waimea’s homecoming night at Hanapepe Stadium.
With the win, Waimea improved to 4-1 in KIF play and 6-1 overall. If the Menehune win next week against Kapa‘a, the KIF title will return to the Westside.
“We got to give it up to our seniors,” Waimea head coach Keali‘i Aguiar said. “They’ve battled day in and day out. It’s been eight or nine years since Waimea has been 6-1.”
For the first three quarters of the game it was both teams’ defenses that dominated the gridiron.
The first 10 drives resulted in either a punt or turnover.
The Kaua‘i offense had success getting the ball into the red zone, but with the end zone right on their backs, the Menehune defense wouldn’t budge.
But late in the second quarter, the Red Raiders were finally able to put points on the board.
Stopped in their own end, the Red Raiders were forced to punt. Micha Akutagawa-Ramos boomed a 50-yard punt deep into Waimea territory.
Menehune returner Acetyn Emayo couldn’t catch the punt and Kaua‘i’s Austin Oshiro pounced on the ball, giving the Red Raiders possesion on the Menehune 26.
The Red Raiders offense stalled again in the red zone, but kicker Kaitlyn Rapozo managed to drill a 28-yard field goal into a strong head wind to put the Raiders up 3-0 with 3:45 left in the half.
The strong winds that whipped through the Westside Saturday afternoon wreaked havoc on balls in the air, making Rapozo’s converted attempt that more impressive.
“I thought the ball was going to come back through the goalposts,” Kaua‘i head coach Corey Aguano said.
The Red Raiders opened the second half with a great opportunity to increase the lead.
On the second play of the third quarter, Kaua‘i running back Dreyke Smith-Butac escaped from the pack at midfield and carried the ball down the field with nothing in his way but the goal line. But just as Smith-Butac closed in on the end zone, Waimea’s Keoni Aana caught him and brought him down at the 5-yard line.
A holding call and three plays later, the Red Raiders failed to convert on fourth and goal, giving the ball back to the Menehune.
The Menehune stopped the Red Raiders once again inside the red zone on Kaua‘i’s next possession. This time it came in the form of a fumble recovery by Kyle Fleming on the Waimea 11-yard line.
Fleming played great defense the whole game and in addition to his fumble recovery, the senior intercepted Kaua‘i quarterback Trey Aguano in the first quarter.
“Kyle is going to make some Division-I coach happy some day,” Aguiar said. “He didn’t come off the field once on offense or defense. He deserves to be the player of the game. He made those plays when we needed them.”
And while it was the Menehune defense that stood out for the first three quarters, the Waimea offense finally found life when it needed it most.
The defense forced the Red Raiders to punt with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter and the offense took over on its own 24 yard line. It looked to be more of the same for the Menehune, as the Red Raiders quickly forced third down and a long 16 yards for the first down.
That’s when Tangalin took over.
Tangalin caught an Elika Emayo pass for 18 yards for a first down on the next play. Then after a Menehune time-out, Tangalin caught the pass from Delos Reyes for 60 yards to win the game.
“I wanted to get the ball to our best play maker,” Aguiar said, “and he did what he needed to do.”
The loss drops the Red Raiders to 0-4 in KIF play this season and eliminates them from KIF contention. The Red Raiders have a week off before taking on Kapa‘a Oct. 29 for one last shot at a win.
“Our kids played their hearts out today and I love coaching them,” Aguano said. “Waimea is an awesome team and our boys played well. We just got some bad breaks.”
The win sets up a Saturday showdown between the Menehune and the Warriors. Kapa‘a is 2-1 in KIF play and must win in order to keep its season alive. If not, the title goes back to Waimea with the Menehune.
“We got one more game,” Aguiar said. “One game for all the marbles.”