A bye to close the regular-season schedule gave Pearl City two weeks to prepare for Friday’s playoff matchup with Kaimuki.
After pulling out a 7-0 defensive duel, the Chargers have another 12 days to devise a game plan before facing an explosive Waipahu attack with the OIA Division II championship at stake.
The Chargers allowed 193 yards in Friday’s semifinal duel with Kaimuki, but protected the last 7 to secure its fifth shutout of the season and continue its pursuit of the program’s first OIA title. They’ll next face the undefeated Marauders — who average nearly 41 points per game — on Oct. 26 at Aloha Stadium.
“We gotta come out strong. Waipahu’s a good team,” Pearl City senior rover Kasey Kikuyama said. “We lost to them the last time but we just have to keep working like we did for this one and just prepare and fix our mistakes.”
When the teams met on Sept. 23 on Waipahu’s homecoming night, Marauders running back Alfred Failauga ran for 238 yards — 193 in the second half — and Waipahu (9-0) pulled away to a 37-6 win to take command of the OIA D-II regular season race.
Waipahu earned the top seed in the playoffs and advanced on Friday with a 38-0 rout of Roosevelt while Pearl City had to sweat out a battle with Kaimuki that ended with the Bulldogs at the Chargers’ 7-yard line.
The Chargers used the time off last week to recuperate and devise a game plan to contain Kaimuki running back Ieke Seei-Cleveland, who ran for 150 yards in Pearl City’s 17-15 win on Sept. 26.
“The bye did well because we were banged up and got to know Kaimuki’s plays,” Pearl City coach Robin Kami said. “We scouted them good, we planned very well and the kids just executed the plays.”
Seei-Cleveland was again Kaimuki’s primary playmaker, although the Chargers managed to hold the senior to 52 rushing yards on 15 carries. But Seei-Cleveland also caught eight passes for 80 yards in his final game.
“You cannot stop him,” Kami said. “All you can do is try to slow him down.”
Pearl City was without leading rusher Makoa Cooper (581 yards, nine touchdowns) and Kaimuki’s defense limited the Chargers to 117 yards in total offense. The Chargers also hampered their own progress with penalties wiping out several long gains.
But Pearl City’s special teams provided the game’s lone score.
Po’okela Moses-Espanto, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound junior, delivered the game’s biggest play with Kaimuki punting from its end zone early in the third quarter. He fielded the kick at the 31-yard line and didn’t stop running until he’d given the Chargers the lead.
“When the left side washed down, I saw that opening and I just took it,” Moses-Espanto said.
Kikuyama, a hybrid safety/linebacker, spearheaded the Pearl City defense with three tackles for loss, including a sack, in the fourth quarter. The sack came on third-and-7 after Kaimuki drove to the Chargers’ 37.
“He’s like a coach on the field because he the one that calls the plays. He’s the one that makes sure everyone is lined up correctly,” Kami said. “We like to use him a lot because of his experience and his maturity.”
Kaimuki spent much of the night running away from Pearl City defensive end Zion Tupuola-Fetui, but the 6-foot-4 senior still batted down two passes in the final period.
“We know pretty much where they’re going sometimes because they’re going opposite from Zion so we try to cheat that way,” Kami said. “Just his presense on the field is a big influence.”
Kaimuki made one last push after getting the ball back with 3:32 left in regulation. The Bulldogs converted on two fourth downs during the drive and picked up a third-and-12 on Seei-Cleveland’s 18-yard reception. They reached the Pearl City 18 on Jordan Solomon’s 16-yard strike to Mana Mahiai on fourth-and-6 with 16.2 seconds left. After a spike to stop the clock, Pearl City junior RJ Kami tipped a pass away with 8 seconds left. Solomon threw a pass to Seei-Cleveland over the middle for 11 yards, but was stopped at the 7 and time expired before the Bulldogs could run another play.
“We kept pushing. It came to third down, it came to fourth down we kept telling everyone, ‘last two plays, last play,’” Kikuyama said. “They kept getting first downs and we kept repeating ourselves with the same mentality trying to come back stronger.”
Pearl City now has two weeks to prepare for the title game while Kaimuki begins looking toward next season after it ended the year at 5-4.
“We were able to accomplish a lot,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said. “For these boys to make it three straight seasons (in the playoffs) is a blessing. … The future for the program is bright. We’re still a young team, we’ve got a lot of our playmakers coming back next year so these are games we have to really learn from and hats off to Pearl City.”