A quick start and a strong finish were enough for Kuna to overcome a mid-game lull and a huge effort by Skyview receiver Kyle Pierce.
Kuna scored the first 21 points of the game, Duston Taylor scored two big second-half touchdowns and the Kavemen knocked off 4A SIC rival Hawks 34-19 Friday in their playoff opener.
Taylor finished with 163 rushing yards for Kuna (7-3), which advances to play at Sandpoint (6-3) next weekend. Skyview (3-7) was eliminated despite a monster game from Pierce, who caught 19 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
“With a conference team, you know it’s going to be tough to beat them a second time,” Kuna coach Ian Smart said. “It got squirrely there for a while, but we were able to put our foot back on the gas. This win is a testament to how hard our kids have worked and what they’re all about.”
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Kuna raced out of the gate, with senior quarterback Ben Ruwe finding Jerome Miller for a 3-yard scoring strike and Jake Johnson for a 48-yard touchdown bomb.
When senior tailback Orrin Cleere ran untouched through the middle for an 8-yard TD and a 21-0 second-quarter lead, the Kavemen looked firmly in control. But the Hawks still had some fight left.
It started on offense, with QB Jacob Hibbard moving Skyview down the field for an 11-yard TD hookup with Pierce.
Skyview’s defense then forced a punt, and Hibbard ran an impressive 2-minute drill, finding DeMonte Horton for a 4-yard touchdown as the first-half clock expired.
Momentum stayed on the Hawks’ side as the second half began. After another defensive stop, Hibbard and Pierce led a quick scoring drive to cut the lead to 21-19.
Kuna failed to take advantage of a blocked punt deep in Skyview territory, but the Kavemen responded with a big defensive stop. Three plays after Kuna denied a fourth-and-three opportunity, Taylor burst through the line and galloped 44 yards to the end zone, giving the Kavemen a 27-19 lead and some much-needed confidence.
One possession later, Taylor delivered the knockout punch, cutting back for a 36-yard run that made it 34-19 with 9:48 remaining.
“Coaches told me to stay focused and do my job,” Taylor said. “I just did what they asked, and it feels really good to score those two touchdowns and help our team come out on top.”
Hibbard — who threw for 282 yards on 56 attempts — continued to target Pierce, whose night included spectacular, 30-yard one-handed catch. But the Hawks ran out of steam as Kuna delivered two late fourth-down stops.
Now the Kavemen are on to Sandpoint, where they’ll make the bus ride north for the state quarterfinals.
“You can’t be satisfied—the goal is the [championship] ring,” Smart said. “We’re going brick-by-brick. This is one brick, and we’ve got three more out there for us.”