The Kuna High football team entered the fall with little respect, failing to earn a single point in the preseason state media poll.
But look at the Kavemen now.
Kuna stands as the 4A classification’s unanimous No. 1-ranked team, and it defended that ranking Friday with a 34-28 win at No. 4 Vallivue in its toughest test of the season so far.
The victory makes Kuna 6-0 for the first time since 1991, the season the Kavemen won their only state football title as a 3A program.
“We’ve been for real since Day 1,” Kuna junior quarterback Sean Austin said. “No one has seen it. But we have.”
Kuna doesn’t stand among Idaho’s traditional football powers. It missed the playoffs each of the last two years. It has never won a 4A SIC title. And it has one playoff win since 1998.
But the Kavemen set three goals before the start of the season: Win a 4A Southern Idaho Conference title, bring home a state championship and finish undefeated.
Those goals may have seemed crazy to anyone outside of Kuna. But Kuna stands alone atop the 4A SIC with a 5-0 league record with three weeks left in the regular season, keeping all three goals alive.
Kuna senior receiver Tyler Brown said the preseason doubt has fueled the Kavemen all season long.
“That’s stayed with the team all the way through,” Brown said. “We’re still trying to get that respect from the entire (state of) Idaho.”
Kuna never trailed Friday, opening the game with a pair of Jon Edwards first-quarter touchdown runs for a 14-0 lead. Edwards finished the night running for 151 yards and three TDs, but Vallivue (4-2, 3-2 4A SIC) never rolled over.
The Falcons tied the game at 14, then again at 28 after Josiah Clacher blocked a fourth-quarter punt and set Vallivue up at the Kuna 4-yard line. Carson Childs tied the game two plays later with a 7-yard touchdown run with 5:59 left.
But Austin and Kuna answered with a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown drive for the game-winning score. That score looked impossible as the Kavemen faced third-and-goal from the 26-yard line. But Austin spun out of a sack and found a sliding Mehki Kelly for a 25-yard completion.
Edwards then dragged a pile into the end zone on fourth-and-goal for the deciding score.
“I’ve never coached in a group that has got so much determination,” Kuna football coach Sherm Blaser said. “… They’re going to do everything they possibly can to make sure that those goals get accomplished.”
Kuna prevented Vallivue from gaining a single first down on the ensuing drive, capping a night that saw it hold 4A’s top-scoring offense to 20 points and 223 yards below its season averages.
Vallivue quarterback Lan Larison ran for 179 yards and two highlight-reel touchdowns. The Falcons even moved him to running back and receiver trying to create ways to get the reigning 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year the ball in space.
But Kuna kept the UC Davis commit from taking over the game, a feat few defenses can claim.
The win sets up another conference championship-worthy matchup for Kuna next week, when it travels to Bishop Kelly (5-1, 5-1 4A SIC). The Knights have won 12 straight against Kuna dating back to 2008.
“It feels good to show everybody what we got,” Austin said. “But we’re not satisfied yet.”
Kuna 34, Vallivue 28
KUN — Jon Edwards 1 run (Kaiden Minnick kick), 8:33
KUN — Edwards 63 run (Minnick kick), 3:21
VAL — Lan Larison 35 run (Braydon Ary kick), 11:50
VAL — Larison 52 run (Ary kick), 9:26
KUN — Koltin Teater 33 pass from Sean Austin (Minnick kick), 7:47
KUN — Austin 3 run (Minnick kick), 0:39
VAL — Casey Cope 7 run (Ary kick), 7:47
VAL — Carson Child 7 run (Ary kick), 5:59
KUN — Edwards 1 run (kick blocked), 4:35
RUSHING — Kuna: Sean Austin 9-12, Koltin Teater 1-15, Mason Leatham 2-11, Ryan Byers 3-7, Ty Cobb 1-(-2), Jon Edwards 18-151, Carson Myers 7-11. Vallivue: Casey Cope 2-30, Lan Larison 27-179, Gage Hernandez 1-8, Carson Child 24-86.
PASSING — Kuna: Austin 23-37-1 265. Vallivue: Cope 0-4-0 0; Larison 1-3-1 0; Child 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING — Kuna: Teater 10-139, Tyler Brown 6-69, Mehki Kelly 1-25, Zeke Wilson 3-13, Cobb 1-9, Edwards 2-10. Vallivue: Cope 1-0.