After shaking hands with Roosevelt in a hard fought OIA Division II title game, Kaimuki’s players walked toward the north exit of Aloha Stadium in visible disappointment, wondering what could have been.
A 28-18 loss to the Rough Riders stripped the Bulldogs of what would have been the program’s third OIA title and first since 2007. Instead, it was Roosevelt that stuck around for an extended celebration after winning its first ever OIA crown.
Not all is lost for the Bulldogs, who clinched a spot in the HHSAA Division II tournament after last week’s win over Kaiser. But that doesn’t make Friday’s defeat sting less to head coach David Tautofi.
“This championship, this loss is a heavy one. It’s a hard one for us because it’s important to us,” he said. “The grace of it all is we have a shot at the bigger one. We don’t want to jump to the big one before making sure we took care of the first title.”
Kaimuki was in the driver’s seat in the fourth quarter after Naomas Asuega-Fualaau’s third touchdown of the night gave it an 18-13 advantage. After forcing a Roosevelt punt, the Bulldogs got the ball back on their own 40, looking to milk clock with its big offensive line. After Asuega-Fualaau was stripped by Marcus Hee, Isaac Kaleikau returned the fumble 42 yards for a touchdown with 8:14 left, giving Roosevelt the lead back with 8:14 left.
As the Bulldogs were driving for a potential game-winning score, Hee swooped in again for a 75-yard interception return to the end zone with 23 seconds left.
“Mistakes is always what it comes down to, just mistakes. That fumble where they returned it was just a killer,” Tautofi said. “The two touchdowns on defense that they had were the two touchdowns that made the biggest difference.
“Hat’s off to them. We can’t take it away from them, they made the plays that we couldn’t. We just gotta go to the drawing board and figure out what’s next for us.”
Tautofi acknowledged that his squad will in all likelihood have to fly to a neighbor island for a road playoff game as an unseeded team. Roosevelt will likely host a game and earn a seed in this year’s HHSAA Division II championships, which starts on Nov. 10 with the quarterfinals.
“Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to go the long road and travel, I’m sure,” Tautofi said. “We’ll take it one game at a time and stick to what we’ve been sticking to. It’s just a matter of mistakes and being at the right place at the right time.”
Kaimuki has never won a state championship, although it reached the title game in 2010 but fell 49-14 to ‘Iolani.
If the Bulldogs want to make 2018 the year they make history, a long road awaits them.
But for a team that has a history of suiting up less than 30 players, the road less travelled is one they have no fear in taking.
“It’s been a way of life for us. We have just about 26 guys and we’re used to it. … I don’t think it had much of an effect on us,” Tautofi said. “We made too many mistakes and couldn’t dig ourselves out and this was the result.
“We gotta go back to the drawing board, lick our wounds and see where we’ll go from there.”