Kaimuki’s ironmen fall in final minute at Kapaa

Kaimuki OL Sama Paama, middle, was helped off the field with an injury in the final seconds of Kapaas 20-12 win Saturday at Vidinha Stadium to reach the D-II state final. Photo by Jesse Castro/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

LIHUE >> Some interesting historical tidbits courtesy of the Bonecrusher, Billy Hull.

>> This was the 11th state tournament appearance for Kaimuki. The Bulldogs have played at eight different venues. Woh.

>> Since 1953, Kaimuki and Kapaa met twice. On Sept. 20, 1963, Kaimuki won 26-0 at Isenberg Field. On Sept. 2, 1972, Kaimuki won 28-0 at Honolulu Stadium.

Two games and no points scored by the Warriors against the Bulldogs.

That changed Saturday afternoon as KIF champion Kapaa ended that obscure streak with a 20-12 win that wasn’t truly decided until the final 6.7 seconds.

It is safe to say that in the two previous matchups, neither side suited up as little as 24 players. Kaimuki has made do all season with a roster that ranged between 23 and 27. Several players, like hulking 6-foot-4, 355-pound lineman Sama Paama, have played through multiple nagging injuries. The gentle giant suffered the worst of Kaimuki’s injuries in Saturday’s Division II semifinal. With 6.7 seconds left, he took an accidental shot from a teammate as they cornered Kapaa’s Stetson Teles-Kelekoma after a game-sealing interception.

Kaimuki closed the season 10-3, and with the number of ironmen on the roster, the number of snaps and miles they registered probably equates to a 17- or 18-game season. Possibly more.

“They played well. They played hard,” Bulldogs coach David Tautofi said. “We knew it would come down to the little things, and it affected us a lot more than it affected (Kapaa).

One of those little things was Kaimuki’s first snap from scrimmage, when Elijah Lemalu broke free for a 65-yard run. Lemalu shook off one defender along the way, and then juked another Warrior, who fell down. But Lemalu also fell. One more clean step and it would’ve been a TD, and the Bulldogs came up empty on the drive.

Another interesting turn of events came when Kapaa RB Baba Nao blasted off right tackle for a 31-yard TD with 1:11 left. With the Bulldogs unable to stop the Warriors from racking up first downs near mid-field, the ease of that TD seemed almost calculated by Kaimuki. A typical Madden video game move: down two points, let the offense score, somehow block the PAT, and march downfield with a chance to tie.

Sure enough, 6-foot-1, 300-pound Siosaia Nisa came barreling around the left side of Kapaa’s protection and mauled the PAT kick, practically at point-blank range. Completely calculated? Maybe. Maybe not, especially if anyone could have predicted how good Nisa is at turning that corner and swatting kicks. Mosi Tatupu would’ve been proud.

As for the TD by Nao being part of Kaimuki’s strategy, well… Kapaa QB Kahanu Davis saw a missing LB in Kaimuki’s defense and called for a quick snap. Kaimuki had a LB running onto the field, but he couldn’t get there in time to stop Nao from scoring. Down by eight points, Kaimuki had 1:11 left. The visiting team in white and kelly green marched all the way to the Kapaa 21. Jonah Fa‘asoa showed some special arm strength on short and deep out throws. One throw seemed like a guaranteed pick, but the ball stay up in the ionosphere on a straight line, catchable only by a Bulldog receiver.

Then Teles-Kelekoma ended the threat.

The visitors locker room was mostly silent for a long time. An hour after the game ended, Coach David Tautofi had seen enough. The time to mourn the end of the year, but also to see the beginning of much more.

“That’s also part of learning and coaching, teaching them how to take losses, especially big losses like this. Also, being humble when you win. In victory or defeat, the most important part of football is learning how to control those emotions and being grateful,” said Tautofi, a former Kaimuki and UCLA player. “Just trying to grab their minds and get their hearts back together as one, and get them to understand the bigger picture. Football is a game, but there’s a lot more to life. We were able to get a lot of things out of this season. It’s going to be good for them in their lives and for the seasons to come.”

The Bulldogs, including Lemalu, have begun to step into the future.

“I had trust in my boys. We had that game, what we could’ve done… all of us, we condition throughout the whole week. Our coaches keep pushing up. We do gassers and it conditioned us a lot. We just had to keep on pushing. We have that mindset that we never give up,” Lemalu said.

His versatility as a receiver and linebacker, the endurance and motor, could land Lemalu somewhere at the next level. For now, the Bulldogs’ spirits were recallibrated by the post-game talk, by their head coach’s post-game reminder about all the work and sacrifice they made for each other.

“It went well for me as a senior, we came very far from last year. It’s been a blessing,” Lemalu said. “All in God’s hands.”

One of the ironmen, Kaulana Kaluna Jr., had mixed feelings about Kaimuki’s impressive season coming to an end. The mood was far better once their coach spoke.

“We had a long talk, honestly. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially losing in the (OIA) championship against Roosevelt. Us underclassmates, we’ve got to bounce back from adversity. We’ve got to get together and train,” the junior WR/LB said. “There’s a handful of good seniors and it sucks that we’re going to get the back next year. What I learned from them was to never give up. Always have faith in whatever you do. Just keep fighting because where there’s a way. We all play both ways, that’s Kaimuki ironman football.”


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