The midday sun beamed on the Kaimuki sideline from the start of its biggest game of the year. With a 2 p.m. kickoff and temperatures rising to as high 96 degrees on the field, the mauka side of Aloha Stadium and its lack of shade was not kind to the Bulldogs.
David Tautofi’s squad didn’t have a choice but to gut it out. With just 26 players suited up, Kaimuki rose to the sweltering occasion and pulled out a 27-24 win over Roosevelt to claim the OIA Division II crown.
The Bulldogs have to overcome adversity — especially with the weather — on a daily basis.
“It’s a lot more important for a team with small numbers than a team that has 50 or 45 guys,” Tautofi said. “It’s a little more work for us as coaches to keep these guys in line, but today just showed the level of maturity these guys got and I’m not surprised these guys were able to pull it off. That’s just been the story of their lives since I got to know these kids, so I’m excited.”
The win gives Kaimuki its third OIA D-II title in school history and first since 2010. Tautofi pointed to recent history as the reason why his team was able to pull through.
The first loss of the season for the Bulldogs (10-2) came on Aug. 24, a 34-24 defeat at ‘Iolani. Tautofi pointed to the day game with the Raiders, who clinched the ILH’s lone spot in the HHSAA Division I tournament on Friday night, as a tough day but a necessary experience for his team.
“It all comes down to time management as coaches. … We didn’t come out on the field until a certain time (on Saturday),” Tautofi said. “The second thing that helped us for this game was the game at ‘Iolani. They got their butts kicked because of the elements at ‘Iolani, but they still managed to come back and they had a shot. They came a long way. Today, the sun set right when we needed it to. Right now, we’re just ready to go home and celebrate together.”
There was also last season’s final matchup with Roosevelt. Although Kaimuki won the regular-season game, it was the Rough Riders who won 28-18 over the Bulldogs in last season’s OIA Division II championship game. Standout defensive back Marcus Hee devastated Kaimuki with a late defensive touchdown in that matchup.
On Saturday, the game appeared to be headed in that direction when Rough Riders star Shepherd Kekahuna picked off Bulldogs quarterback Jayden Maiava near the end zone in a 24-24 game with 6:41 remaining. But the Bulldogs’ defense and special teams picked up Maiava, setting up Kurt Kawamoto’s 22-yard game winning field goal as time expired.
“Hat’s off to the defense for this game. They played their hearts out,” said the sophomore Maiava, who has multiple offers from Power 5 schools. “Yeah, I threw that pick, but we just had to play for another down and one snap at a time.”
Despite the manageable distance, the field-goal attempt from the left hash made for an awkward angle. Roosevelt called its final timeout with four seconds remaining in an attempt to freeze the sophomore, and he admitted the ploy worked momentarily.
“I felt very nervous, but my coaches reminded me to stay calm, stay humble. I just felt very nervous. When they called the timeout, it made it worse,” Kawamoto said. “I try to block everything out and just focus on the snap, hold and kick. I do that every day.”
Tautofi mentioned before the season that winning an OIA title was one of the goals for his team this season. That vision became a reality on Saturday, but now the Bulldogs are quickly setting their sights on more. Winning the OIA automatically puts them in the HHSAA Division II semifinals, where they await their next opponent on Nov. 23.
As for Kaimuki’s history with Roosevelt? Tautofi says he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rough Riders again before it’s all said and done.
“Today was another day at the office and I think it’s gonna come full circle when we’re able to complete the rest of the season. The next big thing for us is states and it’s been a long time since OIA has been dominant in the states,” Tautofi said. “We have two good teams coming in from the OIA and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Roosevelt again. Roosevelt’s gonna come in with a chip on their shoulders and knowing the kind of kids those guys got, this will be a motivation.
“But we gotta take it one game at a time but today, at least we get to enjoy it a little and get back to work on Monday.”