LIHUE — Maui High quarterback Brex Delray engineered a 20-19 edge over Kauai High Saturday in a high school preseason football game under the lights at Vidinha Stadium.
“This is the kind of games you want to coach,” said Kauai head coach Jason Apilado. “This one went back and forth, but was a bitter loss — just one point. We had several different plans, and implemented them. We also got to see the different players and how to adjust.”
This was the first outing of the season for the defending Division I Maui Interscholastic League champion, and Kauai’s second.
Both teams slugged through a defensive first quarter, Maui lighting up the scoreboard first in the second quarter when Delray connected with Kamalu Reyes on a 27-yard scoring hit with just 2:20 remaining in the first half.
Delray booted the point-after for the 7-0 showing.
The drive was set up when the Sabers recovered a fumble on a Raider punt return when a hard hit sent the pigskin squirreling on the field.
“We have to give Maui coaches credit,” Apilado said. “They made some adjustments that sometimes came right back in our face.”
The Red Raiders answered the Sabers’ score with a field goal from Tai Panit for the 7-3 halftime deficit after coming up with a shaky punt return by Maui.
Coming off the break, Maui upped the ante by capitalizing on a Red Raider muffed punt, giving the Sabers control on the Kauai 35-yard line. From there, Delray did the honors on a one-yard dive to the end zone with 7:29 showing in the quarter. He booted the PAT for the 14-3 bulge that stood until the fourth stanza, when confusion reared its head.
The Red Raiders pressed Maui to the wall on a punt that was grounded on the Maui one-yard mark, and on the ensuing play, the Red Raider defense pressured Delray to get rid of the ball in the end zone, resulting in a safety for the 14-5 Kauai deficit with less than three minutes peeled off the final period.
Maui punted the ball from its own 20-yard line, and in the return of a failed possession series, Kauai incurred multiple penalties before Kauai quarterback Sean Mullikin connected with Micah Agtunong for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Panit booted the PAT for the 14-12 deficit and put the Raiders back in contention.
“This is a really good football game,” said stadium announcer Mel Rapozo, who interrupted the play action for an update on the Arizona-University of Hawaii game. “Hang on to your seats.”
Apilado said the field was emotionally charged as Maui took possession on their own 20-yard line with 8:45 showing in regulation play.
“We had to slow them down,” Apilado said. “The kids are ready to clean up their act. We told them they needed to be in check of themselves and don’t do those things they never intended to do. It was high emotion out there, and it was just one of those things that happened.”
With 5:05 showing on the clock, Malu Ralston brought the home crowd to life, plucking a Delray pass and running it back for a touchdown. The Panit PAT boot gave Kauai its first lead of the game with a 19-14 edge.
But the Sabers were not done, Delray leading the Maui charge upfield on passes before finding his receiver in the end zone on a 28-yard pass with 1:33 showing on the game clock. The two-point conversion came up empty, but an interception by Renzo Mendoza put the period on the 20-19 win with just 41 ticks showing.
“The bottom line is I love these kids,” Apilado said. “The resilience they showed to battle back against a halftime deficit and keep battling, I’m proud of how they did out there. But we still have a lot of work to do before we take the field again.”
Earlier in the afternoon, the Kauai Raiders junior varsity squad claimed a 13-0 win over the Maui JV.
The Kauai Interscholastic Federation regular season kicks off Friday afternoon when Kapaa hosts Waimea at Vidinha Stadium in a contest that will be televised on OC16. The JV match kicks off at 4 p.m. followed by the varsity contest starting not earlier than 6:30 p.m.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com.