CALDWELL — Few people gave the Kuna High School football team a chance this season.
Kuna didn’t receive a single vote in the Idaho state media preseason poll. And it was picked fifth in the Idaho Press’ preseason coaches poll.
To be fair, the Kavemen haven’t made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, have never won a 4A Southern Idaho Conference title and have just one playoff win since 1998.
But look at them now.
The No. 1-ranked 4A team in the state kept its perfect season intact with a 34-28 win over No. 4 Vallivue, which was ranked No. 3 to start the season, Friday night at Falcon Stadium in 4A Southern Idaho Conference play.
The Kavemen are 6-0 for the first time in 28 years.
“That (preseason predictions) stayed with this team all the way though,” senior wide receiver Tyler Brown said. “We’re still trying to get that respect in the entire (state of) Idaho.”
Sean Austin completed 23-of-37 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown, while running for another. Jon Edwards ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries, while Koltin Teater added 10 receptions for 139 yards and a score for Kuna (6-0 overall, 5-0 4A SIC).
The game’s real hero for the Kavemen, though, was Mehki Kelly, who only had one catch for 25 yards. But it was a big one.
Kuna had a third-and-goal from the Vallivue 26-yard line following a personal foul penalty on Brown, who let a choice word slip out while arguing for a defensive pass interference call with one of the referees on the play before.
“I was getting held all game on key situations and they weren’t calling it,” Brown said. “So I let one slip on accident, so it is what it is.”
His teammates bailed him out.
Austin spun out of a sack, scrambled to his right and fired a pass to Kelly, who made a diving catch at the 1 for a 25-yard gain.
One play later, Edwards dragged the pile for the 1-yard score with 4:35 remaining to put the Kavemen back out in front 34-28 after Vallivue’s Lan Larison blocked the extra point.
“Mehki saved us that game,” Austin said.
It came right after the Falcons (4-2, 3-2) had just rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit.
Down 28-14 at the break, Vallivue marched right down the field and scored on its first drive of the second half. Casey Cope took a naked bootleg around the left edge for the 7-yard touchdown to make it a 28-21 game with 7:47 left in the third.
Carson Child then completed the comeback by tying it at 28-28 with 5:59 remaining in the game by taking a double wing double handoff to the left for a 7-yard touchdown. The play was set up by a blocked punt from Josiah Sims.
But thanks to Kelly and the defense, the Kavemen held back the Falcons’ late charge.
Kuna’s defense did something that few teams have done this season — they stopped Larison, who entered as the state’s leading rusher with 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
After holding the Vallivue senior quarterback to runs of just three yards on first and third downs, the Falcons lined the UC Davis commit up as a wide receiver on a pivotal fourth-and-seven on their own 38-yard line. Cope took the snap, rolled out to his left, pumped fake and threw Larison’s way toward the far sideline. The sailed over his head for a turnover on downs with 2:43 remaining.
Kuna didn’t give Larison another chance. It converted a huge third-and-9 with a screen pass from Austin to Edwards, before Zeke Wilson ended the game by drawing a defensive pass interference on Stephen Cody on a fourth-and -2 from the Vallivue 24 with 24 seconds left.
The Falcons had the 4A’s top-scoring offense at 48.6 points per game coming in. But were held to more than 20 points below that average for their second-lowest offensive output of the season.
“Vallivue’s a very good football team and that Larison kid is a special dude,” Kuna coach Sherm Blaser said. “So to come into an environment like this where no one’s wanting you to win, but the people sitting over there (pointing to the Kuna sideline), it’s huge.”
Kuna jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on touchdown runs of 1 and 63 yards by Edwards.
But Larison rallied the Falcons back with a pair of touchdown runs of his own. He scored on the first play of the second quarter on a 35-yard run before outdoing himself with a 52-yard gallop to tie the game at 14-14 with 9:26 left in the first half.
However, the Kavemen finished the first half with 14 unanswered points and Austin had a hand in both of them. He found Teater wide-open down the seam for a 33-yard touchdown strike with 7:47 to go. He then used his feet on a 3-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds remaining.
Kuna has now won four straight games against Vallivue. And the last time the Kavemen were 6-0, they won their only state title in 1991, as a 3A program.
“We’ve been for real since Day 1,” Austin said. “Nobody’s seen it. But we have.”
Larsion ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.