It would have been exceptionally easy to fold up the tent at halftime trailing a first-place team by 38 points, the role of spoiler already long gone.
The Kalaheo Mustangs chose the hard road all the way to the end of their winless season. They fought to the finish of a 38-6 loss to Kaiser at Kailua on Friday night, with senior tight end/linebacker/wildcat quarterback Jordan Neufeldt fittingly punching in the 1-yard score in the final seconds.
A moment of pride, a moment for their family and friends to cheer at the end of a 0-10 (0-8 OIA DII) season. Cheer they did.
“It meant a lot, because everybody actually tried their best and pushed through to get that first score of the game,” Neufeldt said.
“That was an awesome thing for the whole kids because we told them at halftime, it doesn’t matter the score at this time,” Kalaheo coach Darrell Poole said. “Let’s try to work and see if we can get a touchdown, and try to get some of the other kids standing on the sideline a chance to get in the game. You know, fortunate for us we have a girl on our team who’s a 10th grader (Emma Shinno), who never really got a chance to kick the ball. And so that was a great opportunity. I mean, she came close (on the extra point). The boys did their job as a team to try and get it in the end zone, and we did. I’m just so proud of them.”
Kaiser coach Tim Seaman nodded his respect the way of Kalaheo as they prepared to line up for their senior ceremony.
“Kalaheo just showed a ton of heart,” Seaman said. “Coach Poole and his staff, they do a great job of getting their kids to work hard. No. 13 (Neufeldt), he’s really impressive. He really moved the ball on us well. Again, they showed a lot of heart, and that’s what you like to see in high school football.”
On Kalaheo’s penultimate drive, the Mustangs got up to the Kaiser 11 on a series of Neufeldt wildcat keepers before a bad snap carried over Neufeldt’s head and the ensuing scramble for the ball left the Mustangs well out of range. But they got the ball right back on an unforced fumble by the Cougars’ second unit.
This time, they made it count as Neufeldt slung a 29-yard pass to Izaiah Abordo that came inches shy of breaking the plane. Neufeldt punched it in himself on the next play, his last of 27 carries for 88 yards with 51.4 seconds left.
It was Kalaheo’s second touchdown in its final four games.
Kalaheo suited up just 23 after losing some players to injury last week, a 33-0 loss to Roosevelt.
“We struggled a lot, but we tried to put the best game plan we can against Kaiser, which is a well-coached team,” Poole said.
Poole started using the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Neufeldt at wildcat quarterback from around midseason. “It’s been working well for us, trying to mix it up. He’s a phenomenal player. We’re going to miss him. He’s a senior. I know he’s going to play at the next level. He’s looking at a couple of schools like Montana Western, Dixie State have contacted him. I just think he’s one of those players, any coach who gets him will be glad to have him. He’s a multi-talented kid that can play anywhere. But his main position will be outside linebacker at the next level.”
Said Neufeldt, who had six of Kalaheo’s seven rushing touchdowns and its only receiving touchdown this year, “Whatever I could do to help the team. … Next level, I’m looking forward to it. This is just the first step. I can’t wait to play ball.”
Kalaheo hoped to host its first on-campus football game this season. That didn’t happen, but the Lee. A. Cashman Field was dedicated, a big step toward a live game in 2020.
Poole said he hopes to host Gunn (Calif.) High in an afternoon game in the 2020 opener.
“If we can get that, that would be so huge for our school and the community,” Poole said. He said safety parts are still needed for fencing and a wall bordering the field.
“After tonight’s game, next week, we gotta start plugging away for that and get the logistics all set up for that to make that first home game for Kalaheo High School happen for next year,” Poole said.