Just as every team does before a game, the Kaimuki football team lined up next to their opponent on the sideline to sing their alma mater. As they did, one thing became glaringly obvious: the lack of numbers on the Kaimuki roster.
“We weren’t really sure what it was going to be like tonight,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said. “Especially with us only suiting up 21 guys, we were prepared for it, but it worked out in our favor.”
According to their roster, the Bulldogs currently have 28 players listed on the team, but injuries and other issues held some players out of action. By comparison, Kalani had nearly double the number of players, with 42 listed on their roster. As a result, nearly everyone on the Bulldogs plays both offense and defense, with many also manning special teams positions. It worked out in a 49-0 win over the Falcons to open Division II play in the OIA-ILH football alliance.
Senior running back Jonah Stephens not only shouldered the load offensively, leading the Bulldogs with 127 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but also lined up at cornerback throughout the game, and returned a handful of kicks. Sophomore Blade Pfeiffer-Kekoa took snaps on offense at running back and receiver, where he caught a two-point conversion, and also played the entire game on defense at linebacker, where he logged a sack and returned a fumble for a score. Pfeiffer-Kekoa also contributed on kick return and coverage units. Senior Sama Pa’ama played nearly every snap at left tackle on offense, nose tackle on defense, and handled the kickoff chores.
“Conditioning is Kaimuki football,” Tautofi said. “More than half of our practices everyday is scheduled for conditioning. We know that it’s the only way we will survive, with our numbers.
The conditioning certainly paid off. Kaimuki was able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball all night. Offensively, Stephens spearheaded an ground game that ran for 176 total yards behind Paama and a powerful offensive line. Paama, who is listed at 6-4, 355 pounds, is the headliner for a offensive line that also features Puatasi Komiti (6-0, 265), Ricky Wells Jr. (5-11, 270), and Hunter Mulu (6-1, 245). Komiti and Mulu also play defensively.
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“It’s something we’ve been trying to build towards,” Tautofi said. [The offensive line] is something we’re trying to make an identity.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs held the Falcons to a paltry 75 yards of total offense in the game. Kaimuki constantly harassed Kalani quarterback Nicholas Sakamoto, sacking him five times and often knocking him to the turf after he had released the football. Komiti and Mulu each logged sacks.
“We identified it [the pass rush] as an area we would have an advantage, and the area we had to take away that they would be best at,” Tautofi said. “We came in wanting to play fast, and we were able to come in and execute our gameplan.”
Sakamoto was also forced into an interception and two fumbles, one of which was run back 33 yards for a score by Pfeiffer-Kekoa. According to Tautofi, plays like those takeaways played a big role in the overall performance and morale of the Bulldogs.
“It’s all about momentum, that’s really what the whole game is,” Tautofi said. “When you are able to get big plays, it helps lighten the load for everyone on the team. And when you make mistakes, it slows you down and make it feel heavier on everyone.”
The momentum and big plays may be in high demand as Kaimuki gears up for the rest of its season. Kaimuki possesses the smallest roster in Division II by a fair margin. Roosevelt, Kaimuki’s opponent next week, boasts a roster of 48 players, more than double the size of the Bulldogs. For comparison’s sake, future opponents Pac-Five has 53 players, McKinley has 32, Kaiser has 56, Kalaheo has 32, and Pearl City has 55.
“As good as any victory is, we still have a lot to learn,” Tautofi said. “The film doesn’t lie. There’s a lot of mistakes we made tonight that happened to go our way. Against bigger teams, or teams with more experience, they’re going to make us pay. So I’m proud of what we accomplished tonight, but we’ll address the mistakes now, and get ready for Roosevelt.”