The first one is many times the toughest one to get.
Kalani first-year coach Scott Melemai was well on his way to securing the first win of his Falcons tenure when Kaimuki suddenly struck for 14 points in the span of 2 minutes, 31 seconds to take a 22-19 lead on Saturday night in an OIA Division II showdown at Kaiser Stadium.
Kalani’s defense had not allowed a single point for over 43 minutes of game time. Suddenly, a 1-yard TD run by Ieki Seei-Cleveland and a 50-yard bomb from Jordan Solomon to Daniel Nguyen on a busted coverage had the Bulldogs smelling a second straight nail-biting win.
There was 2:20 showing on the clock when Kaimuki kicked deep to a waiting Ikaika Andaya near his own 20-yard line. Andaya fielded the ball cleanly, found some space, and turned it up the field 59 yards to the Kaimuki 20 to give the Falcons a huge opportunity to steal one at the end.
“We had a designed play for it but as soon as I got the ball, it was crashing on that side and it was instinct,” Andaya said. “I did what I could.”
Andaya’s work wasn’t done. On the very next play, the 5-foot-7 senior worked open near the Kalani sideline and hauled in a 13-yard reception to move the ball to the 7. Kalani tried a run up the middle and got 2 yards to get to the 5. Still, the Falcons had done nearly all of their damage on offense through the air. Quarterback Seth Tina-Sobarano was 14-for-25 for 217 yards and two touchdowns and the Falcons had only gained 44 yards on the ground in 30 carries.
Melemai elected to ignore the math and instead handed the ball off to starting running back Ikaika Holden, who had 15 yards on 12 carries. The Kaimuki defense bottled him up right at the line of scrimmage, but somehow, Holden bounced off a tackler to get just a little room in front. A defender went for his feet and tripped Holden, who stayed up just long enough to get enough air on a dive from the 2-yard line to cross the goal line with the winning touchdown.
“I was thinking my team worked really hard for this and I want to get that first win,” Holden said. “I stuck my arms and dove for it and thought this was my last chance.”
The Falcons held off Kaimuki’s final drive to secure the dramatic 26-22 win in which all 48 points were scored in the second half.
Offense and special teams came up with the big plays late, but all Melemai wanted to discuss after the game was his defense, which had given up 35 points to Pearl City in a loss last week in the season opener.
“The defense played a helluva game and kept us in it. Contribute this to the defense,” Melemai said. “The offense capitalized at the end and was able to march it down but the defense kept us in it. We knew they pass a lot but can also run it a lot so we worked a lot on both this week.”
Kaimuki threw the ball on 55 of 70 offensive plays in a 22-20 overtime win over Waialua last week. The Bulldogs were nearly 50-50 on offense (29 rushing, 30 passing plays) against the Falcons, but much of that was Kaimuki bottling up Solomon.
Solomon, who is only a sophomore, set the Bulldogs’ single-game passing record with 331 yards last week. Against Kalani, he was 11-for-30 for 172 yards and a touchdown and picked off twice by Cody Uehara, with one returned for a touchdown to give Kalani its first lead in the third quarter.
Kaimuki nearly stole the game in the fourth quarter like Pearl City did last week, scoring 22 unanswered after trailing 30-13 in the final quarter.
Andaya said it wasn’t about to happen a second time.
“When we played Pearl City, we got hot-headed early and we just kept drilling it in our head that we have to stay in the game through the fourth quarter until that clock runs out,” he said. “We worked hard for this. We faced adversity but we came through.”