If not for Andrew Neves’ electrifying kickoff return that gave Kaimuki a 27-22 win over Nanakuli Friday night, the buzz following the OIA Division II semifinal would have likely centered on Golden Hawks backup quarterback Brandon Sevelino and coach Keala Watson’s daring.
Sevelino, a senior listed on the roster as a wide receiver, had attempted just one pass this season when he took over behind center in place of starter Nainoa Banks, who was shaken up at the end of a tough fourth-quarter run.
His first pass attempt of the game went incomplete on fourth down and Kaimuki drove 71 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:35 left.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff pushed the Golden Hawks back to their 22 trailing 21-14. Sevelino then led Nanankuli on a 14-play drive, which he extended with an 8-yard completion on fourth-and-3 near midfield.
Two plays later he connected with Keanu Momoa on a 19-yard completion and Keliki Amaral-Palakiko made a tough catch over the middle for a 20-yard gain inside the Kaimuki 10.
After being dropped for a loss, two incomplete passes brought up another fourth down. Sevelino’s pass fell incomplete but a holding penalty on Kaimuki gave Nanakuli another shot. Sevelino then lofted a pass into the back corner to a waiting Isain Wong-Lonzanid for a touchdown.
Rather than kick the tying extra point, Watson elected to go for the lead and Sevelino came through again with a toss to Momoa to give Nanakuli a 22-21 lead with 13 seconds left.
That alone would have made for a finish to be remembered for seasons to come. But the game elevated to into lore when Neves returned the ensuing kickoff for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.
The outcome left Golden Hawks, the defending OIA D-II champions, to absorb a stunning end to the season and ponder what might have been after going 7-3 and ranking among the OIA Division II’s most successful programs in recent years.
As their slogan goes, the Golden Hawks defended the valley, giving up yardage but holding strong to allow just one touchdown to the Kaimuki offense. But six turnovers, including two leading directly to Kaimuki touchdowns, and the last gasp kick return proved to be the difference.
“Nothing but respect for these guys,” Kaimuki coach David Tautofi said of the Golden Hawks, “because we want to be where these guys were, and how these guys changed a community.”