Andrew Neves wrote himself into Kaimuki lore with his sideline sprint to the game-winning score in the Bulldogs’ jaw-dropping 27-22 playoff win over Nanakuli on Friday night.
With the Bulldogs less than 14 seconds away from turning in their pads, Neves said a prayer before fielding a kickoff and extended Kaimuki’s remarkable turnaround season with his lightning-strike return as time expired.
“What I told myself was do it for my boys, do it for my coaches,” Neves said as the folks leaving Nanakuli’s stadium tried to process the stunning reversal. “They’re my family and I love them.”
Kaimuki earned a spot in the OIA Division II championship on Oct. 30 and will stretch what first-year coach David Tautofi calls “a refining season” into the D-II state tournament.
“We had to melt away a lot of the impurities of our old selfish ways and how we used to be in the past,” Tautofi said.
“This is a changed team. Each kid on this team individually is a different kid than they were when the went into the season.
“We believed from the beginning, and I preach to these guys if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. What these guys did today was nothing short of a miracle. It’s a blessing.”
After appearing in the Division II state championship game in 2010, the Bulldogs won their first eight games in 2011 before ending with two losses. They moved up to Division I the following season and went 1-15 over the next two years. A return to D-II last year yielded just two wins and Kaimuki staggered to a 1-3 start this season under Tautofi.
The lone win in that stretch was a forfeit by Anuenue which was followed by losses to Nanakuli and Radford by a combined score of 89-6.
But the Bulldogs kept the faith and reeled off five straight wins to qualify for the OIA Division II playoffs and a matchup with defending champion Nanakuli.
They traded momentum swings with the Golden Hawks, the Kaimuki defense turning two of its six takeaways into scores. The Bulldogs took their first lead with 3:35 left on Keanu Pratt’s quarterback sneak and Suliveti Nisa’s 2-point conversion run.
But Nanakuli backup quarterback Brandon Sevelino — crafting a compelling storyline of his own — drove the Golden Hawks 78 yards and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to cap a 14-play drive. He then completed a 2-point conversion to Keanu Momoa to give the Golden Hawks a 22-21 lead with 13.3 seconds left.
After absorbing the emotional equivalent of “getting punched in the gut,” Tautofi trusted his hunch to send Neves onto the field for the kickoff.
Neves rewarded his coach’s instinct by racing through then past the Nanakuli coverage team to the end zone.
“You can never dream up something like that,” Neves said. “It just has to happen in the moment.”
While Neves burst into the spotlight an assortment of characters played pivotal roles in the Bulldogs’ march to the league final.
Billy Masima, a 6-2, 215-pound junior, rumbled for 164 yards to power the Kaimuki offense while playing on both sides of the ball.
“Billy is one of the best backs in the state. I can say that now,” Tautofi said. “You’ve seen some of the things he can do. Now I can actually say he’s a well-rounded back. He’s has breakaway speed, he’s quick, he can run you over and he can be elusive.”
Linebacker James Gentile turned in a highlight play in the second quarter with a one-handed interception which he returned for Kaimuki’s first touchdown.
Defensive lineman Cain Asiata was a regular in the Nanakuli backfield and Ronnie Akau recovered a fumble in the end zone for the Bulldogs’ second defensive score of the game.