LIHUE — The Red Raiders’ defense held off the Chargers Saturday, earning a semifinal berth at the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II Football Championships next week on Oahu.
Despite a few offense mistakes, the Kauai High School football team won 13-7 over a resilient Pearl City High School Chargers team at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue.
“The defense came up huge, they kept us in the game the whole time,” Red Raiders head coach Tommy Cox said after the game.
The Chargers established quickly that they didn’t travel to Kauai for a vacation. They moved the ball early with long runs and precision throws. However, the Red Raiders’ Kaiea Iwasaki and James Bukoski shut the Chargers down in the first quarter.
On the offense side, Pono Bukoski and Kanoa Iwasaki steadily moved the ball, but it was Reggie McFadden who broke away from the pack and ran the ball to the 2-yard line with 10 seconds to go in the first quarter.
With only 8 seconds into the second quarter, the Red Raiders got ahead with a one-yard touchdown run by Kanoa Iwasaki. Pono Bukoski kicked the PAT for a 7-0 lead.
The Chargers’ quarterback, Jordan Taamu, was on the mark with his long passes, but the wet football kept slipping out of the receivers’ hands in a playoff game played mostly under the rain.
The Red Raiders kept on pushing. Kyron Rapacon took the ball all the way to the 11-yard line.
With 3:12 before the end of the second quarter, Kelson Andrade threw a clean, 13-yard pass to Pono Bukoski in the end zone for touchdown. The PAT was missed, leaving the score 13-0.
The Red Raiders almost pulled ahead further, after a turnover at midfield and a long run put the ball eight yards short of the end zone.
Just before halftime, Kalawaia Judd grabbed the ball in the end zone with 2.3 seconds on the clock, causing the Red Raiders’ fans to nearly explode in the bleachers, but Judd couldn’t hold onto the ball as he was hit by a defender.
A short field goal was missed as the first half ended.
The Chargers came up energized for the second half, and slowly worked the ball over the entire field. Receiver Blake Cooper was fast and slippery, pushing forward almost every time he got the ball.
When it appeared the Chargers would finally get on the scoreboard, Kaiea Iwasaki appeared out of nowhere and intercepted a pass aimed for a Charger receiver in the end zone.
At 3:09 to go in the third quarter, McFadden was tackled on its own side of the field and fumbled. He then lay injured on the field for a few minutes. After the game, Cox said McFadden was OK.
Because of the fumble, the Chargers got the ball 35 yards into their offense field, but were not able to reach the end zone by the end of the third quarter.
In the last quarter, the Chargers kept inching their way to the end zone, but James Bukoski intercepted a pass and ran it all the way to the Red Raider 35-yard-line.
The tide started turning for the Chargers’ side. They kept pressing — and missing catches — but Cooper’s runs made up for their own offense’s sloppiness.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Cooper was making every play, and would’ve probably scored a rushing touchdown if it wasn’t for Kaiea Iwasaki’s precise defending.
With 7:29 remaining, the Chargers scored a touchdown, after Timothy Rivera caught a 10-yard pass from Travis Joe. Dominic Maneafaiga kicked the PAT.
The Red Raiders were stopped on their next possession, and it appeared it would be only a matter of time before the Chargers would score again.
But the defense again came to the rescue. The crowd erupted with 3:30 to go, when James Bukoski picked off another pass and returned it to the 41-yard line.
The Red Raiders weren’t able to score again. But with less than a minute to go, and almost an entire field to clear, the Chargers kept fighting.
With 50 seconds to go, a clever play by Cooper put the Chargers in the midfield. They fumbled and recovered the ball with 32 seconds on the clock, but a penalty pushed them back to their own side of the field.
They moved the ball to the 30, but another penalty pushed them back to their own 43-yard.
That was the nail in the coffin for the Chargers and the beginning of the victory lap for the Red Raiders.
The Kauai High School team now travels to Oahu to face the Iolani High School team next Saturday.
“It’s going to be a good test for us, they won the Division II title six years in a row,” Cox said of the Iolani team, also called the Red Raiders.
He added his team will watch videos of their opponent, but other than that, they’re going to practice as usual — with a special attention to the kicking — and get ready to travel Friday.
“Kicking has been our nemesis the whole year — we’re going to fix that next week,” Cox said.