For the second straight year, the Kauai and Saint Francis football teams will meet on the gridiron when they face off in a non-league game this weekend. This time around, however, both squads will have a different look offensively.
While the Red Raiders (1-0) and Saints (0-1) have been predominantly run-first teams in recent history, both teams are trying to incorporate more of an aerial attack in 2017.
Kauai, which finished tied for second in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation with a 2-4 league record and 2-6 overall mark last year, opened this season with a narrow home win over Kamehameha-Hawaii Saturday night.
Senior quarterback Christian Manera threw for 196 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-27 passing, but was intercepted twice. Noah Ruiz was on the receiving end of the 42-yard, first-quarter scoring strike, and finished with game-highs of eight catches for 132 yards.
"We're attempting to throw the ball a lot and we have the athletes to do that," Kauai coach Derek Borrero said. "We had a bunch of dropped balls and one tip, but I think we're moving in the right direction. We're excited about our quarterback. We feel he's pretty gifted and he's the type of guy that we need for this run-and-shoot offense. He's working on his timing, but he's got a great relationship with all of his receivers."
The Red Raiders reclaimed the lead for good with about five minutes left in the game on a 33-yard field goal by Logan Noice that made it 10-7.
Among those expected to see a heavy workload this season is 5-foot, 9-inch, 205-pound senior Jaykob Nakaahiki-Young, an honorable mention All-Hawaii selection last season.
"He's a running back, but more importantly he's one of our better slots," Borrero said of Nakaahiki-Young, who carried 21 times for a hard-earned 63 yards against Kamehameha-Hawaii.
Borrero is banking on the Red Raiders' experience — they have 19 seniors on a roster of 45 — to pave the way for success this year.
"A few years ago when I got hired, the original roster was at about 24 to 26 (players), so I had to dip into our JV program and we pulled up about six sophomores and two freshmen that we thought were mentally ready for the varsity," Borrero said. "Those guys are juniors and seniors now and it's been a pleasure to have them. We've kept the concepts the same for a few years so we're hoping everything maturates this year and we can make a good run for the championship."
Saint Francis, which is ranked sixth in the ScoringLive/Hawaiian Electric Division II Power Rankings, will be the second ranked opponent in as many weeks for Kauai (KS-Hawaii was No. 10 before dropping out this week).
"They're very athletic and they're huge so we're expecting an excellent game from Saint Francis," Borrero said. "They can run, they can throw — they look like a D1 team out there — and that's exactly the challenge our team needs. They were a handful for us last year and Saturday will be the same thing, too."
The Saints went 4-2 (5-3 overall) and finished second in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu last year and are coming off a low-scoring affair of their own last week. They locked horns with host Leilehua — No. 8 in the D1 Power Rankings — in a sometimes ugly, defensive struggle.
The teams combined for just 277 yards of total offense with the Mules coming away with a 13-9 win. It wasn't without some drama, however, as Saint Francis nearly came back to win it on the final play of the game.
"Our quarterback got the ball into the hands of arguably our best athlete. Scotty McLeod had the ball at about the 2-yard line and was trying to get into the end zone, but the defender made a great play, knocked the ball out and was able to recover it," Saint Francis coach Kip Akana said.
Akana said once his team got over the initial disappointment of losing, the frantic finish proved to be a valuable learning moment.
"Once we got on the bus and back to the school and put things into perspective, winning or losing that (non-league) game or the next two (non-league) games has no effect on our goal, which is to win the ILH championship and get a spot in the state tournament," Akana said. "These games are about finding our identity and making sure we put players in the right position come the regular season. Don't get me wrong, if we're in a position to win the game, we're going to try to win the game."
Not only are the Saints installing a new offensive scheme, they are without First Team All-Hawaii running back Tyson Shimabukuro, who underwent knee surgery nine months ago.
"We have three good running backs in Matt Dacuycuy, who's a returning senior, along with Tyson in the backfield and we've also been getting Wembley Mailei some reps back there, so we hope to take some of the load off of Tyson, but he's been our bread and butter over the years and we don't expect things to change too much," said Akana, who hopes to have Shimabukuro back for next week's game at No. 2 Konawaena.
Mailei, a First Team All-Hawaii defensive back in 2016, along with 6-foot-3, 260-pound senior defensive end Takaamotaoa Lautaha, and linebacker Samson Kaleikau are the top players on defense.
"With the senior leadership and the captains that we have now the team seems to have taken on a new feel and there's a good buzz going around at practice," Akana said. "The team seems to be bonding well. If anything has presented itself to us in the preseason is how well the team is jelling and how they're trusting one another and playing for each other and holding each other accountable."
Last year's meeting between the teams resulted in a 31-9 win for Saint Francis at Vidinha Stadium in Lihue.
"They're a scrappy team," Akana said of Kauai. "Coach Borrero and his staff are organized and it appears they've got the kids believing. We expect a good battle come Saturday."
Kickoff between the Red Raiders and Saints is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Punahou's Alexander Field.
The game will be streamed online at ScoringLive.com with Spencer Honda (play-by-play) and Michael Lasquero (color commentary) on the call.
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