There are no flights of fancy for the Kaimuki Bulldogs.
The small band of with giant hearts — they’ve suited up as few as 23 players and won games — is in mid-air on Friday morning, heading to Lihue. The OIA Division II runner-up will meet Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion Kapaa on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships. Kaimuki is 10-2 overall, attempting to reach the title game for the first time in eight years.
The Bulldogs’ wild ride through the 2018 season has been full of victory bus rides home, as well as the bittersweet defeat in the OIA title game. A 28-27 road win at Kamehameha-Hawaii last weekend made up for any lingering heartbreak.
Coach David Tautofi chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Thursday. The former Kaimuki and UCLA player is in his fourth season at the helm. Kaimuki has reached the state final just once, in 2010.
HPW: The game of the week turned out to be Kaimuki rallying last KS-Hawaii in clutch fashion. Are you willing to endure another emotional ordeal if the game vs Kapaa is another thriller?
Tautofi: I think most coaches would hope it doesn’t have to come down to that, but that’s also what makes this game as exciting as it is. The rush, but also knowing what’s on the line adds so much more. Am I ready to endure another thriller? Absolutely. But I’m also not hoping it comes down to the last seconds haha.
HPW: Is there anything resembling travel fatigue for a team that travels in back-to-back weeks off island? Or do the guys feel like it’s fun?
Tautofi: I think the team has taken traveling well. For us, it’s just a longer bus ride and, for the most part, I think it’s just a great experience to the boys who have had that experience earlier this season. (Note: Kaimuki played Sierra Vista in Las Vegas.) We were pretty sure this would have been our path, traveling, if we were fortunate enough to make it to states.
HPW: Who has been the unsung Bulldog who was a bit overlooked in recent games?
Tautofi: I think it’s been the defensive front as a whole. Particularly, KJ Navarez. He’s definitely undersized as a DL who can play any technique. He’s only a freshman, but he’s been a nightmare for many this season and a huge reason why we’ve been able to do what we’ve been able to on defense making plays left and right.
HPW: Kapaa is another team that is a mystery to Oahu fans. What is their offense like? In recent years, seems they are more run-oriented.
Tautofi: From what we know of Kapaa, they definitely have a solid ground game, but can also take over games through the air. They’re talented and they come to play, something I’ve known them to be since I started coaching in Hawaii.
Tautofi: Open Division coaches are relishing the bye week they had. Lots of guys got rest and healing. Did you come out of the KS-Hawaii game unharmed? Are 27 guys suiting up? Is Sama Paama close to 100 percent?
Tautofi: We took quite a beating this past weekend. In fact, every week we try to heal up as best we can getting ready for the next, but it’s definitely challenging finding ways to stay healthy and stay fresh especially with numbers being where they are for us. This week we’ll be suiting up 24 players, but we’re as healthy as we can possibly be this week and we’ll see if that’s enough for us to come out alive in the end staying in the hunt. Sama isn’t quite 100 percent, as he’s been fighting a fever and congestion this week, but he’s definitely closer now than he was earlier in the week.
HPW: Kapaa stacks eight in the box. Kaimuki runs the ball. Kapaa stacks nine in the box. Kaimuki runs the ball.
Tautofi: We will run the ball and find ways to establish that for us whether there’s five or nine people in the box. It’s just a matter of finding the right adjustments and keeping the pressure on in the trenches for us. We’re fortunate to have a very talented backfield and so that also adds to a strong line
HPW: Kapaa has zero pass attempts after one quarter. This works in favor of Kaimuki or not? I’m guessing your answer is yes.
Tautofi: Kapaa relying on their run game, I think does play to our advantage as we’ve done a great job against the run all season. But this time we’re in their neck of the woods.
HPW: The Bulldogs ran 52 times against KS-Hawaii. Is 40 rush attempts a winning threshold?
Tautofi: A game of 40 carries or more doesn’t always add up to a victory, but it usually indicates being in control of a game for the most part. The only downside is there’s no room for mistakes either. We just gotta do a better job with the small details
HPW: Will there be a special teams TD in this game? I’m recalling the last-second kickoff return for TD by Andrew Neves that won the game at Nanakuli in 2015.
Tautofi: Who knows what might happen on special teams. We’ve had a pretty good season in that department having a couple punt blocks and several field goal blocks. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to a special teams play though.
HPW: Any other thoughts or shoutouts?
Tautofi: It’s been a great season for Hawaii football and I just wanted to give a shout-out to all of the families and student-athletes across the state as well as the supporters for making Hawaii high school football what its become: a standout among others in the nation.