Semisi Kinikini pounded home the ever-common advice ‘play to the whistle’ Friday night as Mountain Ridge topped Olympus 31-27 in both teams’ season debut.
With the game tied at 21, Kinikini took off down the sideline with the ball and appeared to be wrapped up by Olympus, but the whistle never blew and the back never stopped, breaking free from the group and trotting into the end zone to put Mountain Ridge back on top.
“He played really hard—got hit by a couple of guys, kept his feet moving and finished the play,” said Mountain Ridge coach Mike Meifu. “We tell guys play to the whistle. He played hard and finished the run there.”
The 26-yard score with 4:25 left in the game came on the heels of the Sentinels’ momentum shift after they fell behind 21-7 to a rolling Titans team.
With the game knotted at 7, Olympus built the lead early in the third quarter after Chase Moseley connected with Caden Lloyd on an 80-yard bomb, and then Nash Taylor recovered a fumbled Titan interception in the end zone.
The two Titan plays came within less than a minute of each other and had Mountain Ridge trying to regroup. The Sentinels also lost starting quarterback Rylen Balser to injury during the quarter.
“We talked about it all week in practice, ‘When things go bad, stay together as a team,’ and the guys did that. They trusted themselves and their team and clawed their way back,” said Meifu.
Olympus’ defense had boded well in its effort to thwart the talented running duo of Kinikini and Cade Uluave, allowing only the first score of the game by Uluave and really no other big plays through nearly the first three quarters.
“Our offense first-half struggled. We’re just working out the kinks,” said Uluave. “It’s the first game, so only up from there.”
The Sentinels settled in behind backup quarterback Jaxson Reiser and reeled off 24 straight points to regain and build on a lead it didn’t yield.
“We know anytime we play Olympus that they run a great program and are going to have tough kids, hard-nosed kids,” said Meifu. “A lot of it was us sticking to what we do and trusting it, and we wore them down in the second half and got the run game going.
“Our receivers did a good job making some screen plays and loosened up what they do defensively, so we forced them to make a change and that helped, too.”
Meifu admitted it’s a blessing to have three talented quarterbacks on his roster who have been competing for playing time, and he credited Reiser for coming on and playing well.
He also happily admitted he knows how fortunate the team is to have both Uluave and Kinikini on both sides of the ball.
Both Olympus and Mountain Ridge had hiccups during the season opener as to be expected, and both showed signs of responding to the hiccups, but in the end, the Sentinels’ running game took over with Uluave and Kinikini finishing with a pair of touchdowns each.
Moseley led Olympus with three touchdowns on the night, while Taylor had two.