After 28 carries and 223 yards, plus three catches for 14 yards, Naomas Asuega-Fualaau could use a little rest.
The Kaimuki junior followed his blocking teammates for gain after gain, and the Bulldogs advanced to the championship game of the OIA Division II playoffs with a hard-earned 30-14 win over Kaiser on Saturday night at John Kauinana Stadium.
It was a remarkable performance, the third-highest single-game rushing total by a Kaimuki player ever. The top game is by Justin Paredes, who rushed for 242 yards against Roosevelt in 2007. Chester Su‘a rushed for 229 yards against Lahainaluna in ’10.
The Bulldogs opened the game in elephant formation, switched back to their base spread set with quarterback Jonah Fa‘asoa at the start of the second quarter. Asuega-Fualaau had a fumble on a 30-yard run early in the game, and Kaiser was right there at the half with a 14-all score.
The jumbo treatment by Kaimuki simply took a toll on the young Cougars, who have morphed into a new identity under Coach Tim Seaman and staff. Kaimuki’s massive offensive lineman, 6-4, 355-pound ironman Sama Paama, was a big part of the bonecrunching stampede of blocking power.
“Kaiser is a great team. They gave us a battle and we expected that,” Paama said. “We ran the elephant the whole week at practice. We watched the film and we noticed Kaiser likes to load the box, so we took it to them. We’ve been pushing sleds all week.”
The win also advanced the Bulldogs to the state tourney for the first time in Paama’s career.
“It’s a blessing, the past three years, we couldn’t make it this far. Glory to God for this blessing and opportunity,” he said.
Asuega-Fualaau cramped up with less than 3 minutes left and was carried off the field by two coaches.
“I was following Kaulana (Kaluna Jr.), Quentin (Brackens) and my other blockers,” he said. “Kaiser was tough, but I knew I could trust my blockers. I feel like 100, tuck the ball in and keep it every time I ran. Our coaches told us to just trust our blockers and follow through.”
Kaluna played in all three phases, as well as lead blocking.
“He’s an all-around player,” said Asuega-Fualaau, who never lost confidence after the early fumble.
Kaimuki coach David Tautofi calls Kaluna an invaluable player.
“Kaulana’s one of the best players on the team. In my opinion, he’s probably the best player we have on the team. We’re going to utilize him in everything we can,” he said.
For Tautofi and staff, the decision to go ground-heavy was about common sense. Though Fa‘asoa had passed for a school-record 435 yards in a 46-21 win over Kaiser three weeks ago, the Bulldogs wanted to preserve their thin roster. Only 23 players were healthy enough to suit up.
Going to the elephant had its challenges. On several cutback runs by their running backs, Kaimuki linemen were whistled for holding.
“They got used to it,” Tautofi said. “They’re overcomers. I’ve been telling them since the beginning that they’ll be playing against everybody, so it’s us against the world.”
Roosevelt is next for Kaimuki in the OIA D-II title game.
“It feels good to be back (in states),” Tautofi said. “We’ve got another big game ahead of us and we can’t look ahead to states yet, but it gives us a easing feeling knowing that our season’s not going to be short this year.”