Cry of the Wolf: Aerial circus enters playoffs

Pac-Five Wide Receiver Tsubasa Brennan has been a handful for even the elite teams this season. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser
Pac-Five Wide Receiver Tsubasa Brennan has been a handful for even the elite teams this season. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser

By halftime, it seemed to be Pac-Five’s kind of game.

Sophomore Kainoa Ferreira had already thrown 38 passes, and though just 17 were completed, he hadn’t thrown an interception. At some point in the second half, Damien’s secondary would probably wear out. Nobody has to cover a receiver downfield 38 times in a half, unless they’re playing the Wolfpack. Double that and it would’ve been 76 pass attempts for the game.

Instead, Damien ran the ball with enough success in the second half to keep Ferreira and his receivers to a light 23-play second half. The Monarchs scored the final, go-ahead TD late in the third quarter and held on for a 26-21 win over Pac-Five on Friday at Aloha Stadium. Ferreira was still productive with 338 passing yards (28 for 60) and just one INT. But 217 of those yards came before intermission. In the fourth quarter, it was a tough stretch for the young QB and the offensive unit:

• Interception in the red zone
• Three and out
• Final drive starts at the Wolfpack 12-yard line, but a fourth-down pass to Tsubasa Brennan is stopped at the Damien 1.

If Brennan had scored, Damien would’ve had more than 4 minutes to regain the lead. Pac-Five would’ve had a 27-26 lead, or if they’d made the 2-point conversion, it would’ve been 29-26. Would Pac-Five’s defense be able to stop Damien?

Pac-Five quarterback Ryan Johnson got some run against Punahou. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser.
Pac-Five quarterback Ryan Johnson got some run against Punahou. Krystle Marcellus / Star-Advertiser.

After taking a 26-21 lead, Damien’s offense was stopped by Pac-Five at the ‘Pack 15-yard line, and again at the 12. Two chances to seal the win in the Pac-Five red zone, and nothing. If anything, the Wolfpack can build on those two defensive stands that gave the offense one last opportunity.

Coach Kip Botelho has never been shy about letting his quarterbacks send spirals through the sky. Ferreira, though, is the most prolific passer since P.J. Minaya and main target Darin Kamealoha gave ILH defenses plenty to think about a few years ago. On Friday, Ferreira showed the same go-to tendencies, relying on the highly-reliable hands of his trusted receivers.

• Brennan: 13 receptions, 150 yards, 2 TD (22 targets)
Jarrod Infante: 7-59 (13 targets)
Sean Kinel: 7-112, TD (15)
Grey Ihu: 1-17 (four)
Daven Pila: no receptions (two)
Christian Vasconcellos: no receptions (one)

Noteworthy? I doubt anyone statewide had 22 targets like Brennan did this weekend. But he probably had even more targets in the season opener against King Kekaulike, when he had 19 grabs for 292 yards and four TDs. Also, Ferreira’s only pick came on a pass attempt to Infante.

In 60 pass attempts, there’s going to be more data, more variables and more opportunities for defenses to build up nice statistics. Damien finished with two sacks, which is a tolerable number for any offense that throws 60 times in a game.

Of course, when any offense has zero running game, that’s an all-in situation. Nobody ran the ball for Pac-Five except Ferreira, who lost 15 yards on the two sacks and had a combined two yards on two scrambles. Ferreira is not quite as nimble as former ‘Pack QB P.J. Minaya was, but he’s quick enough to avoid most problems, and Botelho keeps his QB on a short leash. In other words, it’s get the ball out quick and keep things simple.

Simple is working. Any fundamentalist could argue against this aerial nirvana, but there’s something about believing 100 percent in this kind of offensive philosophy. And Botelho’s not crazy. Give him Eric Dickerson or Barry Sanders, or perhaps a young Joe Onosai and Donny Ma‘a, and he’d go crazy with running the ball as much as any ground-and-pounder. But the ‘Pack staff is making do with what they have, and this gives them the best chance to compete.

Somewhere, June Jones might hear about an offense that threw the ball on every down (almost). He used to mention that possibility back when he coached at UH. Nobody doubted it could happen.

Pac-Five could beat Damien in their playoff battle this weekend. And though ‘Iolani is still king of the hill in ILH D-II, they aren’t as deep as they’ve been during their dynasty. They’re beatable.

Defensively, Kamalei Goss and Matt Fansier had one sack each against Damien. Goss is a 5-8, 140-pound sophomore. Fansier is a 5-10, 170-pound junior linebacker.

For the record:

• Brennan: 76 receptions, 962 yards, 10 TD. He’s averaging 12.5 yards per reception, 138.9 yards per game.
• Kinel: 29-546, 7 TD. He’s averaging 19.7 yards per catch and 78 yards per game. Brennan Kinel are a tremendous 1-2 punch working on different sides of the field.
• Infante: 45-387, 2 TD. Infante is averaging 8.6 yards per grab and 55.3 yards per game.
• Ferreira: In six games (he sat out the Punahou game with a foot injury), he is 148-for-299. His total of 1,957 yards measures out to 328.2 yards per game. He also has 21 TD passes and eight interceptions. His completion rate is 49.5 percent.

Yeah, the completion percentage could be better, but for a first-time varsity starter who has no running game for support, he’s doing remarkably well. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per pass attempt, which means the Wolfpack are far better off doing what they’re doing than trying to force-feed into a running attack that would probably average less than 4 yards per carry. If Ferreira’s interception rate was dismal — eight in six games and 299 attempts is very good — the whole throw-on-every-down scenario would carry no water.

They’re a fascinating bunch to watch this year. Now, they’re one, two, three plays away from advancing each week. One, two, three yards, maybe. Let the Fun Gun continueth.


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