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No. 8 St. Frances rallies for 14 fourth quarter points to survive an upset bid in Hawaii

Panthers get a game-winning TD pass with just 39-seconds to play to top Kahuku
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KAHUKU, HAWAII – In a contest that took place more than 4,800 miles from its home in Baltimore, St. Frances, the most traveled high school football team in America, needed a late comeback, early Saturday morning, to top one of Hawaii’s top teams, 22-15.

Quarterback Michael Van Buren completed the comeback with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kyree Benton with just 39-seconds to play in the fourth quarter. The Panthers also got two defensive scores to key the victory over host Kahuku.

Maybe it was the jet lag or the fact that the kickoff took place at 1 a.m. Eastern Time, but St. Frances was sluggish on the offensive side of the football well into the fourth quarter. The Panthers, ranked No. 8 in the SBLive Sports/Sports Illustrated Power 25, were plagued by turnovers an inability to execute inside the red zone.

St. Frances led 8-0 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a 25-yard pick six return by senior safety Kameron Howard. Kahuku, the reigning Hawaii Open Division state champ, tied it with a 1-yard touchdown run from Vaaimalae Fonoti and a two-point conversion pass, early in the second quarter.

Each team fumbled away a possession and punted twice, but St. Frances was in position to re-take the lead after Van Buren completed a long pass to Ryan Manning to setup a first-goal at the 10. However, Kahuku’s Clyde Taulapapa intercepted Van Buren at the six to stop the threat.

A few plays later, the Red Raiders defense was under the gun again, as the offense fumbled the ball back to St. Frances at the Kahuku 13. The Red Raiders did not flinch, turning in their second goal line stand and the game and they went to the half in an 8-8 deadlock.

Early in the fourth quarter the Kahuku defense came up big again, turning St. Frances over on downs at the Red Raider 8. Later in the third quarter, on a fourth down play, St. Frances tried a fake punt and again the Panthers were stymied by an incomplete pass.

With both defenses dominating, St. Frances pinned Kahuku at its own 1-yard line with a punt, early in the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders responded with a 99-yard touchdown drive capped by another 1-yard TD run by Fonoti. With the extra-point kick, the Red Raiders led, 15-8, with nine minutes to play.

Going for the knock out punch, Kahuku executed a successful squib kick which the Red Raiders recovered at the St. Frances 24. The Panther defense, however, responded with perhaps the biggest play of the night.

On a fourth down snap, the Panthers forced a fumble which was scooped up Da’shawn Womack and returned 75-yards for a touchdown. The Panthers failed on the two-point conversion attempt, which left them still trailing by one point, but with eight minutes to play they had finally swung the momentum.

Kahuku dropped to 6-2 on the season with its only other loss to the nation's No. 1 team, St. John Bosco (CA). St. Frances improved to 5-0. The Panthers have now played games in Ohio, Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Hawaii.

The Panthers first home game of the year will take place on Friday when they host Canada's West Toronto Prep. They will follow that with a trip to Connecticut to face St. Thomas Moore, before returning home for a meeting with Clarkson North (Canada) and their huge season-finale with IMG Academy (FL) on Nov. 18th and the University of Maryland.