Red Raiders, Menehune set to square off in Hanapepe

It’s a Westside party tonight as the Waimea Menehune get their first home game of the KIF season in what will be the final Friday night showdown of 2013. Beginning next week, all KIF games will be heading back to Saturday afternoons, so enjoy tonight’s twilight tilt.

While it’s been a rough few weeks for Waimea, it’s certainly too early to panic. The Menehune showed their offense’s potential in the preseason opener against Anuenue, but it hasn’t presented itself in the past three games. Now at 1-3 on the season, Waimea fell in its KIF opener to Kapaa and sits in third place in the standings. Yet that can all change tonight.

The Red Raiders squeaked by the Warriors last week, edging Kapaa 6-3 on a night when the Kauai defense stole the show. Kapaa entered the contest having scored 107 points in its first three games and was only able to muster a lone field goal against the Raider D. Kauai didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard either and relied heavily on the legs of Reggie McFadden, as the running back accounted for 108 of the team’s 168 total yards on the night.

Now the Raiders (3-0, 1-0 KIF) hold the early lead in the standings, but a win for the Menehune (1-3, 1-1) tonight would create a three-way tie at the end of the first round.

The name of the game for Waimea will be ball control and limiting turnovers. The Menehune have the legs to do what they love to do – keep the ball on the ground and methodically move down the field via the run game. They seemed to be unstoppable in the opener against Anuenue, piling up a whopping 450 yards rushing in the 42-0 win as Destin Miguel and Acetyn Emayo ran wild all night. But Waimea has managed only eight points in the three games since and was limited to 80 rush yards (2.6 yards per carry) in the 23-0 loss to Kapaa in the KIF opener.

For Kauai, it will be the first game outside the friendly confines of Vidinha Stadium this season. Head coach Tommy John Cox has had the luxury of three “home” games thus far and will only have to leave Lihue once more this season, so a win tonight would really give the Raiders an edge the rest of the way.

Quarterback Kelson Andrade was efficient for Kauai against Kapaa, but the Raiders kept things conservative. Andrade connected on 10 of his 14 pass attempts, though Kauai totaled just 51 yards through the air. Kauai appeared to be on its way to scoring on its first possession, but a costly interception deep in Warrior territory ended the drive. That may have accounted for the conservative approach the rest of the game.

But when the Kauai defense plays as it did last week, there’s not much reason to take unnecessary risks offensively. Waimea’s strength is running the football, so it bodes well for Kauai that it was able to hold Kapaa to -6 yards rushing. That number does include lost yardage on sacks, but even removing quarterback Fresno Masaniai’s rushing statistics, Kapaa still managed just 13 yards on 17 carries (0.8 YPC).

If the Raiders can play defense anywhere near as well as they did last week, it’s going to be very difficult for the Menehune to put points on the board.

Kauai has certainly held over Waimea for a number of seasons, with the major exception being two years ago. The Raiders swept the season series with the Menehune in 2008, 2009, 2010 and again in 2012. Waimea was victorious in all three of the teams’ meetings in 2011.

So whoever has won the first meeting has now gone on to sweep all three for five straight seasons. If that trend is to continue, then there is a lot riding on tonight. Even at home, Waimea will be considered an underdog, but limiting turnovers and staying within that signature ground and pound style will make it extremely tough for Kauai to have anything resembling an easy night.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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