After Waialua had stunningly taken the lead on a fourth quarter safety, Bulldogs senior Lancen Kuni had one thing on his mind as he dropped back to field the ensuing free kick.
“Don’t fumble,” he said. “Don’t drop the ball, don’t muff it. Kind of just say poised and basically don’t drop that ball.”
Kuni not only fielded the punt cleanly, but returned it 27 yards to set up a Waialua scoring drive that ultimately held up in the Bulldogs’ 16-14 win over Kalani on Saturday at Toshiyuki “Tosh” Nakasone Football Field.
A two-way contributor, Kuni’s playing time was weighted toward defense and he came up with an interception near the goalline that he returned to midfield in the first quarter. He also caught three passes for 48 yards and contributed to the clinching score without touching the ball.
The Bulldogs and Falcons were tied 7-7 early in the fourth quarter when an errant snap on a punt attempt resulted in a safety in Waialua’s favor. Kuni’s return on the free kick gave the Bulldogs possession at the Kalani 33.
After Risein Campbell broke loose for an 18-yard gain, the drive stalled at the 11 and Waialua faced fourth-and-6. Quarterback Tevesi Toia completed a pass into the flat to running back Howard Nahooikaika, who landed right at the 5 for the first down, though the play wasn’t executed quite as designed.
“I just re-routed it and he found me open,” Nahooikaika said.
Kuni entered on the next play and the Bulldogs sent him across the formation on a fake reverse. Toia kept the ball and Nahooikaika was open again for the touchdown to give Waialua a 16-7 lead with 7:06 left in the game.
“We knew everyone was going to follow Kuni,” Waialua coach Lincoln Barit said. “When he came around we saw all the defensive guys flying that way. (Toia) pulled the ball out and he just threw it to Howard in the end zone.”
Toia, a tall and speedy junior, threw for 160 yards and ran for 40. He’s the nephew of former Bulldog quarterback Caleb Fore, who owns four of the program’s top eight passing performances, including a record 341 yards against Honokaa in 2006.
Waialua (1-1 OIA D-II) managed to hold off Kalani’s comeback attempt to earn its first win of the season and plays the second of three straight home games when the Bulldogs host Pearl CIty (3-1, 3-0) on Friday. Waialua won last year’s meeting 27-23 in a game played over two days. The game suspended due to lightning in the fourth quarter and was completed the following Monday.