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National No. 3 St. Frances (Baltimore) rallies past Kahuku, 22-15

Saturday, October 1, 2022

By: Wes Nakama

KAHUKU — Finally flashing its explosive national-power offense just in the nick of time, No. 3-ranked St. Frances (Baltimore) rallied past Kahuku, 22-15, Friday night in a pulsating and rare intersectional meeting of elite football programs.

A typically loud, faithful and near-capacity crowd of about 3,000 at Carlton E. Weimer Field watched the talented and speedy Panthers awaken from a stunning 15-8 deficit in the final 7:32 and score the go-ahead touchdown on Michael Van Buren’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyree Benton with just 39 seconds remaining. Durell Robinson ran in the two-point conversion to make it 22-15, and the Red Raiders could not get past their own 26-yard line on the ensuing series, losing the ball on downs with 15 ticks left.

St. Frances, ranked No. 3 in both the USA Today Top 25 and MaxPreps’ list of top teams nationally, improved to 5-0. Kahuku, the top-ranked team in Hawai’i and defending state champion, fell to 6-2 but earned respect from its well-traveled visitors.

“That’s a great program, well-coached with good discipline,” said St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam. “Their coaches had a great game plan against us. They made us get kind of uncomfortable, and we haven’t been this way. It reminded me about a team that is well-coached, and came in and did exactly what they were supposed to do. Honestly, we were just blessed, and it’s a miracle to happen, to allow us to come out with a victory.”

The Panthers took an early 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter after free safety Kameron Howard scored on a 25-yard pick-6 down the left sideline, followed by Ryan Manning’s two-point conversion run. The Red Raiders answered with Va’aimalae Fonoti’s 1-yard TD plunge and Mana Carvalho’s 2-point conversion toss to Liona Lefau with 9:18 remaining in the first half. 

The score remained 8-8 heading into the fourth quarter, thanks to Kahuku’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half and another one midway through the third quarter. A blocked punt then set up another 1-yard touchdown run by Fonoti, and Zaden Mariteragi’s extra point gave the Red Raiders a 15-8 lead with 8:54 remaining in the game.

Fonoti, a bruising fullback, gained 61 tough yards on 32 carries while running mostly out of a full-house backfield/”elephant” package designed to devour the clock and keep St. Frances’ potent offense of the field and the Kahuku defense fresh.

It worked to that point in the game, and things looked even more hopeful for Red Raider Nation when Kahuku recovered the ensuing pooch kickoff on the St. Frances 24. But on fourth down, after first sending out the field goal unit for a 39-yard attempt and then bringing the offense back on the field following a timeout, quarterback Waika Crawford could not gather in the shotgun snap and Dashawn Womack returned the loose ball 60 yards to score and close it to 15-14.

Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho said his defense convinced him to go for the first down rather than the field goal.

“Our defense said, ‘Put us on the field,’ ” Carvalho said. “They said, ‘Coach, we got ‘um. Let’s go for it and if we don’t make the first down, let us back on the field and we’ll stop them.’ And I love that, I love when my players step up. They have great athletes across the board, and for the most part, our defense held them in check. I trusted my defense tonight, they played a heck of a game, I’m so proud of them. But you cannot beat a great team with turnovers, and that’s what killed us tonight, the turnovers.”

The two-point conversion pass, pushed back to the 33-yard line due to two penalties, came up short.

But after the Panthers defense forced a punt, their offense started a final drive at their own 20 with 1:45 showing on the clock. Van Buren went to Manning, his primary receiver, four times for gains of 23, 15, 32 and then 20 yards to take St. Frances to the Kahuku 10, setting up the connection to Benton, who ran an out pattern, caught the ball on the 3 and then stretched across the right-side pylon for the winning touch.

Manning, a speedster who dropped a pass at the goal line to end a third-quarter drive, finished with eight catches for 176 yards. Most of his final catches on that last drive were spectacular in fashion, showing off his great athleticism.

“I just heard a voice in my head to keep pushing, and my teammates gave me positive energy bringing the offense up,” Manning said. “I knew I had to win my route every single play, and that’s what I did. I knew I had to bounce back hard. Kahuku is a great team, they competed to the end just like we did. They’re one of the more physical teams we’ve played, up front and even their DBs. And they’re well-coached.”

Hailemariam said he had confidence in his two-minute offense, backed up by evidence.

“We always try to prepare, two-minute, four-minute, depending on the situation,” Hailemariam said. “We had the same situation in Ohio, where we beat East St. Louis in that same type of scenario. Honestly, our coaches are amazing, we just never give up, we play as a team. As frustrating as some games may be for us, we’re learning how to create and find ways to win.

“Our defense today, they scored twice and kept us in the game, and it’s been that way this whole year. They fly to the ball, and do a tremendous job.”

Van Buren finished with 14 completions in 28 attempts for 221 yards and the one TD, with two interceptions. Crawford was 13 of 22 for 102 yards and one pick.

Photos by: Lori McKeown | https://www.lorimckeownphotography.com/

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