KUNA — Sherm Blaser first had to let out a big sigh of relief. Then came the big smile.
The Kuna High football coach knew his team had taken a huge step Friday after a frantic 42-28 4A Southern Idaho Conference victory over the Nampa Bulldogs.
It may only be Week 2, but Friday’s decision may prove huge in determining this season’s title winner.
“Yes, this is nice. They got after us last year so we feel good about how we came out tonight,’’ said Blaser, whose team moves to 2-0 on the young season with both wins coming in conference. “This setting was great here at home; the crowd was great.
“The No. 1 thing for us last year was turnovers. We really cleaned that up tonight. We played a good clean game with no turnovers. That really helps.’’
With Nampa knocking off top-ranked Bishop Kelly last week while Kuna was upsetting Middleton, both coaches knew it could come down to miscues to see who would be sitting atop the 4A SIC standings.
“Yep, too many mistakes,’’ Bulldogs coach Dan Hotry said afterward. “We had a few injuries tonight, and it really cost us losing a couple key players. We had to make some adjustments. We had to regroup a little and that seemed to hurt us.’’
Nampa lineman Owen Andrews was taken off by stretcher in the third quarter, but Holtry said the senior seemed to get back all feeling before leaving the Kuna field in an ambulance.
Another flaw in Nampa’s quest was penalties. The Bulldogs were guilty of 11 flags for 95 yards, many of those in costly spots. One holding call nullified a long scoring pass, while another halted a drive deep into Kavemen territory. To cap things, the Bulldogs, trailing by a touchdown late, appeared to stop a Kuna drive to get the ball back. But a personal foul call Nampa after a fourth down enabled Kuna to continue the drive with 5:15 on the clock on their to the clinching score.
“Yes, penalties hurt us tonight,’’ Holtry said. “We’ve got to clean some things up.’’
Both offenses came out swinging in the first half, led by quarterbacks Donavan Estrada of Nampa and Kuna’s Sean Austin.
Austin led the Kavemen to a 28-21 edge at the half, hitting on 15-of-19 passes for 196 yards and two scores. Estrada kept pace, hitting on 6-of-12 tosses for 130 yards and two scores while running for one more.
The two teams combined for over 500 yards in the first half, but Nampa came up with most answers to Kuna’s attack after intermission.
Led by first-year starter Austin, the Kavemen led a 12-play drive to bump their advantage to 35-21 in the third. For the game, the junior hit on 19-of-29 passes for 251 yards and the two touchdowns.
“He’s a player. We’re excited to have him,’’ said Blaser of Austin, who combined with Jon Edwards for 174 yards on the ground. “We had his older brother last year and his younger brother is coming up. I like the genes in that family.’’
Nampa, which finished with 372 total yards, 217 of those in the air from Estrada, got back to within 35-28 late in the third period but that was as close as the Bulldogs could get.
“This was not what we wanted tonight. We have some things to clear up but we’re alright,’’ Holtry said. “This league is extremely competitive. There are a lot of good teams in the conference this year. There’s a long way to go.’’
Kuna takes on Ridgevue on Friday while Nampa hosts Mountain Home in a nonleague.