On some level, the events that preceded Kaimuki’s victory last night may have sweetened the postgame celebration for the Bulldogs.
"This one feels nice; our kids worked so hard to get here," Kaimuki head coach Clint Onigama said as he watched the Bulldogs revel in a 48-12 win over Kalaheo to capture the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference championship at Aloha Stadium.
"I’m just glad they have this opportunity to enjoy this moment."
The Bulldogs’ title performance capped an unprecedented day for the OIA in which top-ranked Kahuku forfeited its scheduled OIA Red title game against Mililani, denying the teams a chance to settle the championship on the field.
The cancellation moved the White (Division II) final into prime time, and Kaimuki running back Chester Sua delivered under the spotlight, rushing for 161 yards and three touchdowns to power the Bulldogs to their second OIA White championship.
"Everybody did their job tonight," Sua said. "Hard work pays off, and tonight we had our ‘A’ game."
While Sua — whose third score came on a 71-yard run that highlighted both his strength and speed — was a focal point, he certainly wasn’t alone in keying Kaimuki’s win.
Four other Bulldogs reached the end zone and the Kaimuki defense and special teams pounced on five Kalaheo turnovers. The Bulldogs defense also held the Mustangs’ veer offense to 80 yards on the ground.
"As great as Chester is, he’ll help open things up for other players, and other players will open things up for him," said Onigama, an assistant with Kaimuki’s 2007 OIA White champion. "We know the importance of being balanced, and if we can achieve that just adds one more dimension to what we’re able to do."
Both Kaimuki and Kalaheo have qualified for the HHSAA Division II state tournament, which opens Friday.
"They were the better team and they kicked our butts," Kalaheo coach Chris Mellor said. "That’s part of the game. We’ve dished it out, and we have to be able to take it. We have to be able to bounce back. We have a game next week, and this is ancient history as of right now."
Kaimuki appeared to succumb to some jitters initially, fumbling the ball away on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
The Bulldogs dodged a Kalaheo scoring threat when Justin Pagan’s 36-yard scoring pass to Nainoa Frank on fourth down was ruled an illegal forward pass, the loss of down giving Kaimuki possession.
The Bulldogs settled in and took control by scoring on four of their next five possessions while the defense contained Kalaheo’s backfield duo of Pagan and running back Jesse Carney, both of whom rushed for more than 100 yards against the Bulldogs in Kaimuki’s 14-13 win on Sept. 18.
"The defense was excellent tonight," Onigama said. "They had moments where they bent a little, but they didn’t break."
Sua finished a 13-play march with a 1-yard plunge to open the scoring. Siaosi Hala’api’api’s 46-yard interception return then set up a 6-yard touchdown run for Sua.
After the Kalaheo defense forced a short punt to give the Mustangs possession at the Kaimuki 18, Pagan connected with Frank in the back corner of the end zone to cut the Kaimuki lead to 14-6.
But the Bulldogs answered on their next play when Kaimuki quarterback Nahoa Spencer tossed a lateral out to Nick Montellang, who sprinted down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown run.
Kaimuki further tightened its grip on the trophy when Mason Kuali’i-Moe caught a pass along the left sideline and outran the Mustangs secondary for a 36-yard score to give Kaimuki a 28-6 lead.
The Bulldogs defense came up with its third takeaway of the game to open the third quarter, and Sua stretched the lead with his 71-yard score, breaking three tackles before hitting open field to the end zone.
Kaimuki turned another Kalaheo turnover, a muffed punt, into a four-play drive with Hala’api’api scoring from 1 yard out. And 5-foot running back Tre Paderes capped the scoring with another 1-yard run.
Kaimuki 48, Kalaheo 12
At Aloha Stadium
Kaim–Chester Sua 1 run (Keoki Kaiahua kick)
Kaim–Sua 6 run (Kaiahua kick)
Kalh–Nainoa Frank 18 pass from Justin Pagan (kick failed)
Kaim–Nick Montellang 57 run (Kaiahua kick)
Kaim–Mason Kuali’i-Moe 36 pass from Nahoa Spencer (Kaiahua kick)
Kaim–Sua 71 run (Kaiahua kick)
Kalh–Pagan 1 run (run failed)
Kaim–Siaosi Hala’api’api 1 run (kick failed)
Kaim–Tre Paderes 1 run (Kaiahua kick)
RUSHING–Kalh: Pagan 17-47, Jesse Carney 7-27, Anthony Maglinti 2-6. Kaim: Sua 17-161, Tre Paderes 13-65, Montellang 1-57, Spencer 2-4, Dallas Reis 3-3, Brandon Kekoa 1-1, Hala’api’api 3-(-1).
PASSING–Kalh: Pagan 6–22-2-135. Kaim: Spencer 6-16-0-83, Reis 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING–Kalh: Frank 4-96, Sage Richardson 1-24, Carney 1-15. Kaim: Kuali’i-Moe 4-64, Hala’api’api 1-13, Montellang 1-6.