Kaimuki senior Kaulana Kaluna Jr. helped force an interception on defense in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s OIA Division II title game with his pressure on Roosevelt quarterback Sky Ogata.
He put his arm down to break his fall, and was worried immediately he might have broke something. The play ended with Keith Hallers intercepting a pass off a tip by teammate Sione Taufa, sending the Kaimuki fans in the stadium on their feet in jubilation.
The volume went from loud to silent in an instant as the Kaimuki section all quickly noticed No. 5 lying on the Aloha Stadium turf. He didn’t move for what felt like an hour as trainers from both teams tended to him.
Then, in one quick motion, Kaluna Jr. hoped up to his feet and immediately jogged to the Kaimuki sideline with a noticeable limp.
That cheering section erupted at a volume only matched when sophomore Kurt Kawamoto drilled a 22-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bulldogs a 27-24 win over Roosevelt and their first OIA Division II crown since 2010.
Like many of the 26 Bulldogs who suited up against the Rough Riders, Kaluna Jr. rarely had time to get a breather playing both ways. But the volume of that cheer when he was able to get up and run off the field under his own power signaled something more than just a single player escaping injury.
“He’s a emotional leader, he’s the vocal leader and he’s a leader on the field. He’s been like that since his freshman year,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said. “He’s been playing this whole season with a chip on his shoulder just because of everything that’s happened the last few years and knowing that his time is running out. That ovation really represents all the fans that are appreciative of him because he’s a legitimate player.”
Tautofi’s Bulldogs have endured heartbreak in the playoffs each year since he took over in 2015. Kaimuki lost in the title game to Radford in 2015, and then was bounced in the semifinals the next two seasons to miss out on states completely.
Last year, Kaimuki went undefeated through the regular season and was the No. 1 seed before losing to Roosevelt 28-18.
“We came up short and we failed our seniors last year,” said Kaluna Jr., who had six catches for 40 yards against Roosevelt including some key third-down conversions. “This season we had a new mind-set, a new mentality, we had to bring it back home.”
Kaluna Jr. said the heartbreak of previous seasons made the feeling when Kawamoto’s kick went through the uprights that much sweeter.
“We’ve been together since we were super young, like elementary schools days,” he said. “We consider each other blood brothers. We’re one family. I came to Kaimuki to play with my boys and it feels so amazing.”
The emotion was strong from all 26 players after the game.
Running back Naomas Asuega-Fualaau has carried as much of a load as anyone. He had touched the ball 213 times (189 carries, 24 receptions) in 10 games coming in and had another workmanlike performance with 102 rushing yards on 25 carries.
He never found the end zone, but he allowed the Bulldogs to possess the ball and run the clock down before Kawamoto’s kick.
“Ever since I got moved up my freshman year, I’ve been working hard with all of the boys to get here,” Asuega-Fualaau said. “Roosevelt came hard on defense, especially with the run game. They knew we had a run game and they stopped that and for us to pull through with a finishing kick was good.”
Junior receiver Koby Moananu said he was in the stands at Aloha Stadium in 2015 when Kaimuki lost to Radford in the OIA final.
His two big touchdown catches helped the Bulldogs experience a different fate this time.
“We’ve always been dreaming of it,” Moananu said through tears after finishing with 97 yards receiving. “Coach T has never doubted us. He’s been here since that Redford game in the stadium and I was on the sideline for that. I teared up at halftime because it was so emotional.”
The Bulldogs will have a chance to rest and recover with their state tournament not beginning until the weekend of Nov. 22-23.