WAILUKU - Kepa Luat-Hueu prefers to play defense, and in the third quarter of a close game Saturday night he showed why.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior safety - who happens to be the top returning rusher in the Maui Interscholastic League - grabbed an errant pass and scampered 17 yards into the end zone to lead the King Kekaulike High School football team to a 26-14 win over Maui High in front of about 2,000 fans at War Memorial Stadium.
Then again, Luat-Hueu made his presence felt immediately on offense in the first half, too, with an 85-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball.
Maui High School’s Camryn Wilhelm tries to bring down Kepa Luat-Hueu of King Kekaulike during the first half of Na Alii’s 26-14 win over the Sabers on Saturday in a Maui Interscholastic League game at War Memorial Stadium.
BEN JUAN photo
Maui High’s Chastin Valdez runs as King Kekaulike’s Kenny Brittain pursues during the Sabers’ 26-14 loss to Na Alii on Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
BEN JUAN photo
One more time late in the game, he thwarted a drive with an interception.
Luat-Hueu finished the night with 145 rushing yards on seven carries, two interceptions returned for 75 yards and a touchdown and a 35-yard punt return that he nearly broke on the final play of the game.
King Kekaulike rose to 1-2 in Maui Interscholastic League play, while Maui High fell to 1-1.
"It was a great win for us, but Maui High is a really tough team and we have a really good Baldwin team coming up next and we just have to get back to the drawing board and clean up a lot of the mistakes," said King Kekaulike coach P.K. Higa.
When Maui High drew within five points and was threatening midway through the fourth quarter after a 14-yard touchdown pass from Garren Ah Wah to Keone Kapisi, Luat-Hueu came up big again with an interception at his own 7-yard line, returning it 58 yards.
The drive that followed didn't go anywhere, but Na Alii pinned the Sabers on their 13 on a punt. Luat-Hueu then left it to his teammates to grab a couple of huge interceptions.
Maui High gained 38 yards on a screen from Ah Wah to Jarrin Cabo and a 15-yard penalty, but King Kekaulike's Keegan Gregg then picked off a pass.
Na Alii were forced to punt again, however, and the Sabers took over at their own 13.
On second-and-10, Keallan Dowells finally put things away when he grabbed Ah Wah's pass in the flat and went 11 yards for a touchdown and the game's final points with 1 minute, 52 seconds to play.
"The defense has been playing really well and has been the staple for us, but it is a team effort," Higa said. "Kepa is a playmaker for us, he is a senior, one of our leaders and that is what we looking for, our leaders to step up and lead us through.
"Kepa is a team guy - he will go anywhere, wherever he is needed. That is what we love about our team guys, all of them. They are very selfless, everything is for the team."
Chastin Valdez gave the Sabers 140 all-purpose yards in the first half - 86 on three kickoff returns, 53 on 11 rushes and one on a swing pass reception. He had 35 more called back on penalties.
Alas for the Sabers, Valdez went to the sideline late in the first half with an apparent ankle injury, joining nine teammates - all of whom came to the game in street clothes because of previous injuries or personal issues, according to coach David Bui. Earlier, starting quarterback Braydan Waikiki - in for an injured Siueli Vaha - left with an apparent knee injury.
"It was a good battle, King K came ready, I felt we came ready," Bui said. "We were short-handed today and our kids never gave up. They gave everything they have got all the way to the end and we are proud of them for that."
The Sabers struck first with lightning quickness.
After a 38-yard return by Valdez on the opening kickoff put the ball on the King Kekaulike 42, it took just two plays for Maui Hugh to take a 7-0 lead 54 seconds into the game. Waikiki scored from 33 yards out on a keeper around the left end following a beautiful fake handoff.
After the teams traded punts, Na Alii were facing second-and-15 from their own 15 when Luat-Hueu checked in on offense for the first time. He blasted through the line, made one move and was gone. Maui High's Tommy Fisher blocked the extra-point try.
Na Alii took the lead on Michael Teves' 31-yard field goal with 4:09 to go.
Waikiki and Valdez, who took a couple wildcat formation snaps at quarterback, were both knocked out of the game with leg injuries. After that, Maui High muffed a handoff deep in its own territory that was recovered by King Kekaulike's Devin Canha at the 10 with 38 seconds left, and Teves tacked on a 30-yard field goal.
Ah Wah, the No. 4 quarterback and usually a wide receiver, finished the night 9-for-19 passing for 126 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions.
"He is our emergency, emergency QB and he came in and did a good job," Bui said. "He was composed, he did the best he can with the limited reps he had. We were able to move the ball, it wasn't his fault. He took it a little hard, but he did a great job and he needs to know that."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
King Kekaulike ..... 6 ..... 6 ..... 7 ..... 7-26
Maui High ............. 7 ..... 0 ..... 7 ..... 0-14
MH-Brayden Waikiki 33 run (Keone Kapisi kick), 11:06.
KK-Kepa Luat-Hueu 85 run (kick blocked), 4:43.
KK-FG Michael Teves 31, 4:09.
KK-FG Teves 30, 0:13.
KK-Luat-Hueu 17 interception return (Teves kick), 4:13.
MH-Kapisi 14 pass from Garren Ah Wah (Kapisi kick), 0:43.
KK-Keallan Dowells 11 interception return (Teves kick), 1:52.
Junior varsity-King Kekaulike 42, Maui High 7.
BALDWIN 41, KAMEHAMEHA MAUI 7
Kamehameha Maui ..... 0 ...... 7 ..... 0 ....... 0-7
Baldwin ..................... 14 ..... 21 ..... 6 ..... 0-41
B-Kamalei Anderson 20 pass from Keelan Ewaliko (Zacharic Coloma-Mariano kick), 9:10.
B-Ewaliko 7 run (Coloma-Mariano kick), 3:20.
B-Kina Malafu 2 run (Coloma-Mariano kick), 9:06.
KSM-Kalai Yap 20 run (Stephen Barut kick), 7:49.
B-Ewaliko 26 run (Coloma-Mariano kick), 4:37.
B-Kyson-Lee Kaiama 5 pass from Ewaliko (Coloma-Mariano kick), 0:01.
B-Devin-Lee Luna 12 pass from Chazzen Sau (kick failed), 7:40.
............................. KSM ................. B
First downs ................ 7 ............... 26
Rushes-yards ..... 28-56 ........ 48-283
Passing yards .......... 66 ............. 118
Total offense .......... 122 ............. 401
Return yards ............ 38 .............. 15
Comp-Att-Int ...... 4-17-0 ..... 10-21-1
Fumbles-lost ........... 2-1 ............ 1-0
Penalties-yards ..... 5-35 ........ 11-96
Punts-avg .......... 8-26.9 ........ 3-33.0
RUSHING-KSM, Barut 11-55, Yap 9-9, Kaiea Hokoana 1-0, Ryan Graham 5-(minus 2), Kupono Cabanas 2-(minus 6); B, Ewaliko 9-107, Malafu 14-94, Branden Kaupe 8-39, Sau 5-21, Phillip Brugger 8-10, Kaipo Lapenia-Lau 1-7, Coloma-Mariano 1-6, Justin Cabajar 2-(minus 1).
PASSING-KSM, Yap 4-15-0-66, Graham 0-2-0-0; B, Ewaliko 7-14-0-81, Sau 3-5-0-37, Brugger 0-2-1-0.
RECEIVING-KSM, Daylan Machado 2-33, Andrew Park-Murray 1-29, Jonah Aruda 1-4; B, Camvel 3-53, Kaiama 2-6, Brandon Fernandez 2-5, Malafu 1-22, Anderson 1-20, Luna 1-12.
MISSED FIELD GOAL-B, Ewaliko 58 (SH).
Baldwin 41, Kamehameha Maui 7
King Kekaulike 26, Maui High 14
Friday, Sept. 16
Maui High vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17
Baldwin at King Kekaulike, 7 p.m.