Everything seemed to be stacked against the Pearl City Chargers as the second quarter drew to a close in their OIA opener against the Kalani Falcons on Friday night.
Kalani had just blocked a punt by Zion Tupuola-Fetui and a Pearl City personal foul put the ball on the Chargers 20. With Kalani already holding a 14-13 lead, it seemed that the Falcons were on the verge of seizing control of the game.
Instead, the Chargers defense dug deep, stonewalling the Falcons and holding them out of the end zone to keep the deficit at one at the half.
“Anytime you can stop somebody from scoring, it’s momentum for you,” Chargers coach Robin Kami said. “So even though was were losing by one at the half, we had that momentum, because we had just gotten that stop right at the goal line.”
Neither team scored during the third quarter. Pearl City slowed the Falcons’ offense but also saw its running game bog down. Meanwhile, the crowd began to grow restless as time ticked off the clock and Pearl City struggled offensively.
“I told them to just stick with the game plan,” Kami said. “Don’t let things get out of hand, just because we made some mistakes in the first half. We [the coaches] just keep telling them that when they make a mistake, do it the right way on the next play. Don’t worry about the last play.”
Disaster seemed to strike with about two minutes left in the third. Quarterback Kekainalu Simon took a helmet to his left knee while scrambling away from pressure and stayed down. A stunned silence fell over the Pearl City faithful as Kami sprinted out to check on the quarterback.
“When I ran out there, they were working on his knee,” Kami said. “So as a coach, any time it’s the knee, you get kind of scared. So I was just hoping it was nothing serious, but when I got out there, he told me he was fine and the trainers said he was alright.”
As the third quarter ended and the fourth quarter began, the Chargers’ fortunes didn’t appear to be improving. The Falcons marched down the field and punched in a 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth, expanding their lead to 20-13. But on the ensuing point-after try, the Chargers broke through and blocked the kick.
That block seemed to be the spark Pearl City needed. Simon, back in the game, quickly guided the Chargers down the field, finding receiver Patrick Nunez for a 10-yard touchdown. Simon then found Nunez again on the two-point conversion attempt, and Pearl City bolted back into the lead. Kami pointed to Simon’s gritty performance as a driving force behind the comeback.
“I think that when bad things happen sometimes, there is good that comes from it,” Kami said. “I think also, the team went out and picked him up, because they knew he was hurting.”
That proved to be so on the very next Falcon possession. Pearl City held, forcing Kalani to punt. That’s when Tupuola-Fetui, who had had a punt blocked early in the game, redeemed himself, plowing the the line and stuffing the Falcon punt. The Chargers recovered at the Kalani 10 and Pearl City quickly scored again. It used a bit of trickery as receiver Brody Padilla tossed a 12-yard touchdown to Nunez off a lateral from Simon. The Chargers now had a commanding 35-20 lead, and the Falcons would not threaten again.
“Football is played for four quarters, and we’ve been stressing that to the players this year,” Kami said. “All offseason, we pushed them hard, and they worked extra in the weight room, because we wanted to be ready to win games in the fourth quarter.”
The win was Pearl City’s second in the last four meetings against Kalani.