By Rodney S. Yap
First-year football coach Kyle Sanches is determined to change the culture Upcountry.
Friday night, Sanches and the King Kekaulike High School football team took a giant step in that direction by winning its first game of the year 36-31. And while it wasn’t easy — taking a grueling 3 1/2 hours — it was against crosstown rival Kamehameha Schools Maui and it was before a packed crowd on homecoming night.
“Our kids fought hard and played well,” said Sanches, the positive and energetic head coach who prefers to see the glass as always half full rather than half empty. “They are starting to believe.”
Kekaulike more than tripled its scoring output in one game, coming into the contest 0-4, getting outscored 137 to 10. In fact, the Warriors blanked Na Alii 29-0 in their first meeting on Aug. 24.
“The offense is starting to click now, got a few more kids healthy and we are starting to put it all together now.”
Sanches said before the game he talked to his players about the progress they have made from the start of the season.
“It’s a progression. Against Baldwin last week, we had our moments. The kids have seen the progress we have made and that we have gotten better from week to week. We’ve had opportunities, but the timing hasn’t been right for us. Although we loss against Baldwin, it was a stepping stone for us in my opinion.
“The kids showed a lot of fight. It was homecoming and there is a lot to play for — we have 18 seniors.”
“It felt really good to win,” said King Kekaulike running back Jay Braun, who tweaked his ankle after a big run in the third quarter and did not return to the game. “We’ve been kind of undermanned with alot of injuries and we’re a small team, so it felt good to get a win under our belt.
“A win like this draws the team closer together. . . . And it was also good to score some touchdowns and to see the offense finally start clicking.”
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Kekaulike quarterback Ryley Widell to Brandon Haupu was followed by a six-yard touchdown run by Braun less than two minutes later as Na Alii led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Warriors trimmed the lead to 14-10 at halftime as Kailoa Akoi banged a 27-yard field goal with 10 minutes, 44 seconds to play in the second quarter and Colton Cabanas ran underneath a beautiful 25-yard touch pass from quarterback Chase Newton with 3:52 to go.
Kekaulike’s Kawika Homalon’s 1-yard run accounted for the only points in the third quarter, giving the home team a 20-10 advantage going into the final frame.
“Defensively we were in a softer shell than we usually are,” Sanches said. “Chase Newton is just a tough kid. . . . But it was nice to see the defense get a few picks and some turnovers.”
King Kekaulike padded its lead to 27-10 when linebacker Christian Garcia Alvarez returned a fumble 62 yards for touchdown with 9:59 to play in the game.
“I never really got a chance to speak to the team after the game, but I did talk to several individuals and made a point to try and talk to each senior.
“Like I said, the kids are starting to see that progression and are starting to believe that even though we are smaller we can be successful if we do things correctly. These are tough kids. They don’t get down on themselves too much. They comeback each week, they fight. So I think we’ll be better off in the long run.”
Kamehameha Maui battled back, scoring 21 fourth-quarter points, but Homalon’s secord touchdown run of the night — this one from 45 yards out as Na Alii were trying to run out the clock — sealed the win for King Kekaulike.
Kamehameha Maui fell to 1-4.
Friday’s Game Summary
Kamehameha Maui 0 10 0 21—31
King Kekaulike 14 0 6 16—36
KK—Brandon Haupu 25 pass from Ryley Widell (Micah McDonald kick), 7:02.
KK—Jay Braun 6 run ( McDonald kick), 5:16.
KM—Kailoa Akoi 27 FG, 10:44.
KM—Colton Cabanas 25 pass from Chase Newton (Akoi kick), 3:52.
KK—Kawika Homalon 1 run (kick failed), 6:31.
KK—Christian Garcia Alvarez 62 fumble return (McDonald kick), 9:59.
KM—Ian Armitage 6 run (Akoi kick), 6:50.
KK—Widell 36 FG, 3:23.
KM—Ikaika Chong Kee 4 run (Akoi kick), 1:52.
KK—Kawika Homalon 45 run (run failed), 1:08.
KM—Koeni Keanini 35 pass from Newton (Akoi kick), 0:06.
Junior varsity-King Kekaulike 48, Kamehameha Maui 13.