Now this is an Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II round-robin worth seeing play out.
You’ve got Pearl City (5-1, 5-0) in one corner of the triangle otherwise known as the top of the OIA D-II standings. Undefeated Waipahu (5-0, 4-0) is in another. And Kaimuki (4-2, 4-1) is in the third.
Let the games continue. All three teams hadn’t lost a league contest going into Saturday night and two came out unscathed.
The Bulldogs were denied on their chance to stay without an OIA loss when Pearl City’s Zion Tupuola-Fetui blocked Richard Burton‘s 25-yard field goal attempt with 12 seconds left. That preserved the Chargers’ 17-15 victory at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium.
Waipahu, meanwhile, rolled to a 49-0 victory over Kalani, setting up a big showdown next Friday at home against Pearl City.
Fortunately for the Chargers, Kaimuki’s dramatic comeback Saturday was halted just in time. Pearl City appeared to have the game in the bag, leading 17-7 with 9:15 to go.
“We just tried to weather the storm and get a first down and kill the clock,” Chargers coach Robin Kami said about getting the ball back with about five minutes left after quarterback Isaiah Asinsin‘s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Chargers that 10-point lead. “We had a bad turnover and that’s something we can learn from for the next game.”
That turnover was Kaulana Kaluna Jr.‘s fumble recovery, giving Kaumuki the ball with 4:53 to go. It was about to get a bit hot under the collar for Kami.
But not quite yet. After three incomplete passes, Burton lined up for a 47-yard field-goal attempt, but flags flew and the play was called dead as the kick fell short. A 5-yard penalty was marched off against Kaimuki and the Bulldogs lined up to go for the first down instead.
A bit later, on fourth-and-15, quarterback Jordan Solomon faked a swing pass to his right and then cut left and picked up some momentum before eluding a tackle and being pushed out of bounds for a 17-yard gain and a first down.
Three plays later, Solomon was chased and barely got a pass off that Elijah Lemalu caught for a 19-yard touchdown. The extra-point attempt by Burton was initially blocked, but a penalty on Pearl City gave the Bulldogs another chance. This time, Kaimuki lined up for 2 and Solomon took off for the left corner. It looked like he had a chance to make it into the end zone against a charging defender, but another defender covering Lemalu in the front corner of the end zone, left his man to make sure Solomon didn’t get in. At the last second before getting hit, Solomon tossed it to an open Lemalu for the 2-pointer to make it a 17-15 deficit.
The scenario that continued to unfold was very close to a nightmare for Kami, who has had his share of important, close, last-second losses in the last few years.
“It was crazy,” Kami said. “But it feels real good to win a close, last-second drama game. This is a big win for our guys.”
The nightmare didn’t happen this time.
After a Pearl City punt, Kaimuki moved with a passion. Ieke Seei-Cleveland‘s hard running and Solomon’s passing advanced the ball all the way to the Chargers’ 4. There were 35 seconds left when the Bulldogs lined up for Burton’s 25-yard try and the clock continued to tick away because a Kaimuki player was missing from the front line and he trotted on late. The snap came at 19 seconds and the Pearl City line plunged forward, allowing Tupuola-Fetui to get in the way of the screaming kick.
“The penetration allowed us to get in there before the ball had a chance to get up high,” said Tupuola-Fetui, who said he was still worried that the ball might have gone through. “Kaimuki is a quality team, man. In my eyes, we’re the best and all we have to do is prove it to everybody else. It’s such a huge blessing. I’m thankful for this team and I have all the faith in them, and we were able to pull it through.”
The road ahead will be one of humility and focus, according to both Tupuola-Fetui and Asinsin. Too many times, they say, Pearl City has advanced far in the league and in states only to fall short.
“(Coach) Kami has changed his coaching philosophy a lot,” Tupuola-Fetui said. “We work on keeping our heads down and focusing on finishing. Before, I think our mentality of ourselves is what got in our way — being big-headed and stuff. Every day, the coaches keep us grounded. In practice, the moment we get ahead of ourselves, coach brings us right back. Since I started as a freshman until now, it’s a drastic change. Coach Kami knows what he’s doing and I’m thankful to have him.”
Asinsin, who scored two 1-yard touchdowns, isn’t about to celebrate too much.
“They’re (the Bulldogs) coming for us (possibly in the playoffs), so we’ve got to work harder,” he said. “No social media posts. Keep our heads high. Be humble. Work more harder and keep it going.”‘
In the final tally of yards from scrimmage, Pearl City outgained Kaimuki 324 to 309.
The third game of this unofficial three-team round-robin is Saturday, Sept. 30, when Kaimuki and Waipahu go at it at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
The Bulldogs have a bye next weekend, and it’s likely the staff will be at Waipahu to watch the Marauders go against the Chargers.
“We’ve got to go back to the chalkboard and practice and fix all the mistakes we had in the game,” Solomon said. “It was very disappointing (to lose). We’ve gotta make those plays (in the drive at the end) count.”