The Kaiser and Kalani boys soccer teams have engaged in a memorable rivalry through the years, especially recently as not just two of the better teams in the OIA East, but the entire state.
The Falcons won the state title in 2013 and advanced to the state final in 2015, losing to Mililani.
The Cougars beat the Falcons in the OIA third-place game a year ago, and then beat Hilo, ILH champion ‘Iolani and Baldwin to advance to the state final before bowing out against Punahou.
Wednesday, the two undefeated teams met at Kaiser Stadium sharing an identical 8-0 record and a number even more impressive than that.
Zero. As in zero goals allowed, by either team, through the entire OIA regular season.
With that as the backdrop to Wednesday’s match on the new turf field in Hawaii Kai, nothing was settled after 80 back-and-forth minutes that saw Kalani strike first on junior Jason Strambu‘s header in the 35th minute.
Kalani held a 1-0 lead for nearly the entire game and was two minutes away from extending its scoreless streak when Kaiser senior Bay Nickerson sat on the back post for a corner kick and had a chance to boot a sliding left-footed kick into the net to equalize for a 1-1 tie.
“That last play — I was waiting for it the whole game. I felt something like that was going to happen,” Nickerson said. “I just saw it back post and knew I had to redirect it back across so I hit it back across the goal and it ended up deflecting in.”
The last-minute goal means both teams remain tied for the OIA East lead at 8-0-1. Kalani came so close to pulling out the win, but the Cougars started to surge ahead with their play over the final 20 minutes.
Kaiser had three or four really good goal opportunities, forcing Kalani goalkeeper Sena Morimoto to come up with a diving stop to his left on one of them.
Kaiser senior midfielder Motoki Sato ripped a shot from 35 yards out just over the crossbar and the Cougars had two different chances on corner kicks with the ball loose in the middle of the box — similar to the play Nickerson scored on — before they finally came through with a goal.
“I think definitely for our team — learning curve playing on the turf for the first time — but hats off to Kaiser,” Kalani assistant coach Brandon Chun said. “The wind definitely played a factor into what we tried to do offensively and defensively. The momentum also started to shift as well and the more cornerkicks and more set pieces we gave them, the more momentum we gave them and that’s the goal.”
The wind indeed played a huge factor in the game, with Kalani using it to its advantage in the first half and Kaiser getting it at its back for the second half.
On one free kick, Sato was able to mark the ball on the opposing 30-yard line and sent a ball perfectly into the opposing box some 70 yards away to get a look at the goal.
“It’s pretty windy but we’re used to it because we train every night around this time,” Nickerson said. “We’ve been putting in the work and it’s been paying off.”
Kalani has Kaimuki to close out the regular season while Kaiser faces Kalaheo on Saturday. The OIA playoffs begin a week from Monday and there’s a pretty good chance at some point, these two teams could meet again, with a little more on the line.
“I learned that our team works well under pressure and we’ll be ready (for OIA and) states,” Nickerson said.