Homecoming win keeps Kalani in playoff chase

Kalani receiver Jonathan Cai (6) beat Pearl City defensive back Reily Pascual (20) to catch a pass in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Kalani coach Scott Melemai can envision a scenario in which the Falcons’ season comes down to a coin flip.

In a sense, it already did.

A fourth regular-season loss would have shoved the Falcons to deep into the pack in the chase for the fourth and final spot in the OIA Division II playoffs. Instead, they rode a wind-aided start to a 17-6 homecoming victory over Pearl City on Friday at Kaiser Stadium, lifting them into the fourth spot in the standings for the moment.

The Falcons improved to 4-3 overall and more importantly 3-3 in the division, getting back to .500 along with idle Nanakuli (2-2) and Waialua (2-2), which plays division leader Kaiser on Saturday.

With Kaiser (4-0), Roosevelt (4-1) and Kaimuki (4-1) leading the way in the division, the remaining postseason berth in OIA D-II figures to come down to a wild scramble in the final weeks of the regular season.

The Falcons have games against Pac-Five (which won’t count in the OIA standings), Waialua and Kaimuki left on the schedule, with all three games at Kaiser Stadium.

“We’re taking one game at a time. We messed up a couple games already,” Melemai said. “I think if we win it’s going to come down to a coin flip. … As of right now, it looks like it’ll be a three- or four-way tie for fourth place in our division. So we’re just trying to play every game like it’s the last game and trying to make the most of our season.”

Turned out the pregame coin flip on Friday may have helped bolster the Falcons’ playoff hopes.

Pearl City won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, giving Kalani the choice of direction. The Falcons opted to play with a stuff breeze at their back to start the game and scored on their first three possessions.

After Kevin Tabuchi opened the scoring with a 31-yard field goal, the Falcons extended their second possession with three fourth-down conversions. Logan Lim completed the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to senior Jonathan Cai.

“(Playing with the wind) was really big for us because … we can see where our receivers are and it helps us to open up the field and see what we can do and we came down with a couple nice catches,” Melemai said.

Prior to Pearl City’s third punt of the first quarter, the Kalani staff called timeout with 4 seconds left to force the Chargers to kick into the wind again. The punt was downed at the Chargers’ 27 and Kalani capitalized two plays later when Nathaniel Balangitao turned a screen pass into a 28-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 17-0 lead.

“Kalani did a great job getting out and scoring on us, especially with this wind factor,” Pearl City coach Robin Kami said.

The Chargers were without quarterback Makana Canyon due to an ankle injury he suffered while passing for a school-record 372 yards in an overtime loss at Nanakuli. The Chargers spent the entire first quarter in their territory and managed to get on the scoreboard in the second quarter on a fourth-and-goal when receiver Isaiah Cruz-Ameperosa — also coming off a record performance last week — threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kody Kikuyama.

But the Kalani defense shut out the Chargers the rest of the way. The Falcons came up with five sacks, two fumble recoveries and interceptions by Nicholas Sakamoto and Hunter Park.

Jaden Self had one of the fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter and also demonstrated the effect of the wind as the Falcons’ punter. He miss-hit one into the wind that went out of bounds for a 1-yard gain in the second quarter and boomed a 70-yarder with the wind in the fourth quarter.

Pearl City will some ground to make up at 2-4 in the division with games against Kaimuki, Pac-Five and Waialua remaining.

“We just have to take one game at a time and play with some pride the last three games,” said Kami, who remains one win shy of becoming the program’s leader in victories.


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