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Kauai holds off Pearl City for another close win

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    Pearl City’s Brandon Tom knocked Kauai’s Pono Bukoski out of bounds during Saturday’s game.

LIHUE >> What appeared to be a breeze just before halftime turned out to be an all-out war for Kauai High in a 13-7 victory over Pearl City on Saturday at Vidinha Stadium.

In drizzling, soggy conditions, the Red Raiders held off the hard-charging Chargers’ final three drives to advance to play ‘Iolani next Saturday in the Division II semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.

"Defense has been doing it all year for us, carrying us, and they did it once again," Kauai coach Tommy Cox said. "They (Pearl City) shut us down in the second half, when it would have been nice to be picking up more first downs and getting it in the end zone to take the pressure off the defense. But the defense stood tall. Pearl City came right at us in the second half."

The Red Raiders (9-0) know how to win close, low-scoring games. They defeated rival Kapaa by a total of seven points over three games (6-3, 7-6 and 6-3) to capture the KIF title.

Trailing 13-7 with 3:49 left in the game, Pearl City (7-5) watched one chance to even it up or take the lead evaporate when Kauai’s James Bukoski intercepted backup QB Travis Joe’s pass near midfield. It was Bukoski’s second interception and Kauai’s fourth of the day. Bukoski also had a game-high 10 tackles, and his previous interception inside the Red Raiders’ 20-yard line stopped Pearl City’s first possession in the fourth quarter.

"They were running really well on us in the second half because their line was pushing harder than our line," Bukoski said.

"We were slacking and we were tired. Pearl City was tough. They didn’t give us an easy win. It came right down to the end of the fourth quarter."

The Chargers had one more chance with 1:32 to go and pushed the ball deep into Kauai territory with a series of trick plays. A hook and lateral (with another lateral added on) went from Joe to Kristian Vaana-Kikuyama to Timothy Rivera to Blake Cooper and covered 34 yards. Another pass play from starting QB Jordan Taamu to Vaana-Kikuyama went for another 20 yards all the way to the Red Raiders’ 32, but was nullified and brought back to the Chargers’ 41 by a false-start penalty.

The game wasn’t in the bag for the Red Raiders until Rivera was brought down at midfield as time ran out when he took a lateral from Vaana-Kikuyama after a pass from Taamu.

"This win is huge for our kids that we’re moving on in the tournament," Kauai’s Cox said. "We’ve seen ‘Iolani a little bit and they’re typical ‘Iolani. They’re fast and they do things right. We’ve never beaten them. They’ve always been a bump in our road."

The Red Raiders grabbed a 13-0 halftime lead in the second quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Kanoa Iwasaki and a 13-yard TD pass from Kelson Andrade to Pono Bukoski. They had a great chance to pad that lead just before the break when Damian Butac intercepted a pass by Taamu and returned it to the Pearl City 4, but Kauai couldn’t punch it in, and Pono Bukoski was wide left on a 25-yard field-goal try.

Immediately in the second half, the Chargers showed they meant business. Cooper ripped off runs of 5, 8, 15 and 9 yards that pushed the ball all the way to the Kauai 11, but Kaiea Iwasaki stepped in front of a Taamu pass in the end zone to stop the thrust.

"We had a hard time adjusting to Kauai’s tosses in the first half, and by the time we adjusted, it was too late," Cooper said. "We didn’t get off to as good of a start as usual, and I think if we could have scored in the first half, it would have been a much different story. But I’m happy with what we did (this year). Our season didn’t start too good, but we ended here in the state tournament."

The Chargers finally broke through the Kauai defense for their only touchdown with 7:26 left in the game. Cooper made it possible with a 20-yard gain on a fake-punt run on fourth-and-8 from the Red Raiders’ 45. Five plays later, Joe hit Rivera cutting across the end zone for a 10-yard score.


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