Saturday night’s 25-13 win over Kalaheo wasn’t the prettiest display for Kaimuki, and at times it was plain ugly.
But a win is a win for the Bulldogs (6-2, 6-0 D-II) who remain undefeated in OIA play after enduring a sloppy field and even sloppier play.
“It was frustrating but at the same time, I’ve seen these types of games many times before and the same challenges we have, they were also having too,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said. “It was just making the most out of what it is. With the weather like this, we weren’t really prepared for it but I’m glad we came out with the victory.”
With heavy rain across Oahu on Saturday afternoon, the playing surface at Kailua’s Alex Kane Stadium was a wet and muddy mess.
Kaimuki ran the ball exclusively on the opening drive of the game, and it only took the Bulldogs five plays to get in the end zone after Naomas Asuega-Fualaau’s 4-yard score with 9:02 left in the first quarter.
Both teams had to brave the messy conditions and made uncharacteristic errors, especially Kaimuki in the second quarter.
Kaimuki fumbled the ball a handful of times in the period due to trouble snapping. The Bulldogs also squandered a blocked punt that Alan Aber recovered in the end zone with 5:18 left in the first half to tie things up at 7-7. After Kaimuki coughed up another ball on its next possession, the Mustangs took their only lead of the game when Kekoa Alana and Noa Lapera connected for a 45-yard touchdown.
The Bulldogs answered after Jonah Stephens willed his way to a 32-yard rushing score with 1:20 to go in the half, dragging a few defenders with him during the last five or so yards.
“We’re just grateful that we didn’t get any serious injuries. At the beginning of the game, it started looking that way,” Tautofi said. “Just the footing, it was crazy. We’re just grateful to walk away from this in one piece so we can go back and fix things up, and get ready for next week.”
More rain in the third quarter made the field even slicker, and both teams exchanged punts and turnovers in a scoreless period.
Kaimuki finally put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter after rushing scores by Asuega-Fualaau and Stephens, the latter coming with 4:40 left in the game. The duo each finished with a pair of touchdowns and broke the century mark in rushing yards. Asuega-Fualaau had 15 carries for 119 yards while Stephens had 117 yards on 17 carries. With the slippery field conditions, Bulldogs quarterback Jonah Fa’asoa only attempted eight passes.
Ultimately, the numerous amounts of fumbles and three-and-outs didn’t deter the Bulldogs mentally, who dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Kaimuki’s sizeable and imposing defensive line, led by Washington commit Sama Paama, held the Mustangs to minus-8 yards rushing.
“They took it in stride, actually. They weren’t too riled up about it. They were able to collect their thoughts and minds on what happened and take the game up another level and execute,” Tautofi said. “They answered the call, they stepped up and that’s what they needed to do.”
Kalaheo (2-7, 2-4) was eliminated from OIA Division II playoff contention with the loss, giving Kaiser (4-3-1, 3-3) the fourth and final spot regardless of what happens next week.
Up next for Kaimuki in its regular season finale is a date with Pearl City on Oct. 13 at Skippa Diaz Stadium. A win over the Chargers (6-3, 5-1) would give the Bulldogs the top seed.
A loss would put each team in a three-way tie with Roosevelt, who wrapped up OIA play with a 49-14 win over the Chargers on Friday to finish 6-1. The Rough Riders finish their regular season with St. Francis of the ILH. OIA teams do not count games against the ILH in league standings.
The matchup is a pivotal one for Tautofi and the rest of the Bulldogs, who went 0-2 against the Chargers last season, including a 7-0 loss in the OIA semifinals.
“Every game is big for us, but Pearl City’s got our number the last season, they got us twice. We definitely won’t forget the game we lost to them in the semifinals,” Tautofi said. “We’re definitely looking forward to it.”