Villa Park’s week-long trip to Hawaii culminated in its season opener against Damien on Friday night at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
With a roster of over 90 players, the seven-time defending Crestview League 3A champions in Orange County, ranked No. 11 in the region, had the look of a vastly superior team to the Division II Monarchs.
That was hardly the case as Damien, which suited roughly 1/3 the number of players as Villa Park, hung tight with Spartans the entire game and trailed by one in the fourth quarter. Two miscues in the passing game and a 90-yard touchdown pass from 6-foot-5 quarterback Paul Piferi to Dylan Bonilla was the difference in the Spartans’ tougher-than-expected 14-6 win.
Monarchs coach Eddie Klaneski was proud of the way his team battled, but made it pretty clear that it wasn’t enough just to hang with the team from California. Klaneski wanted the win.
“We’re proud of what we did but it’s still frustrating knowing that we had the game. We were right there in it,” Klaneski said. “We continued to shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties and just bad plays and we’ve got to fix that.”
Damien quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina was 17-for-29 for 237 yards and a 24-yard touchdown pass to Akila Arecchi that capped a nine-play, 61-yard drive to start the second half that took more than six minutes off the clock.
Damien (2-1) gave up an early TD but had the momentum for much of the second half with the Spartans (1-0) struggling to string together consecutive plays without a penalty.
Both defenses made stops in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1 plays with Matthew Faufata-Pedrina stopping Anthony Hakai short of the marker with 3:22 left to give Damien the ball on its own 40.
The Monarchs, needing only a field goal to take the lead, got a 12-yard pass from Marcus Faufata-Pedrina to Lindon Sevilleja to move the ball into Villa Park territory. A 15-yard penalty on Villa Park moved the ball inside the 35.
Faufata-Pedrina attempted a deep ball to Sevilleja inside the 10 that was picked off by Bonilla. Both Bonilla and Sevilleja got their hands on the ball but Bonilla had two hands under the ball when he hit the ground and had possession first, resulting in an interception.
Damien still had a chance to get the ball back down one and had Villa Park third-and-8 on its own 10-yard line when Piferi hit Bonilla in stride for a 90-yard TD to make it a 14-6 game.
“We thought the play was going to be there all day and our quarterback, if we could just get him out of the pocket, we wanted to roll the dice and go for that,” Villa Park coach Dusan Ancich said.
Damien still had a chance to tie the game down 8 and moved the ball again inside the Villa Park 35, but Bonilla came up with a second pick near the sideline to end it.
“(Bonilla) is a special kid. He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy,” Ancich said. “I’m not surprised by his performance, I’m just excited about it because he’s a good player.”
Damien had eight drives inside Villa Park territory but only scored once.
“We’ve just got to finish,” said Arecchi, who had four receptions for a career-high 112 yards and made key plays at cornerback as well. “We drove the ball. We had our chances, but we didn’t finish. We got in the red zone a couple of times and didn’t score. All of those small things we need to clean up. When we get in the red zone we have to score.”
Damien fell to 1-5 all-time against mainland teams in the Prep Bowl and state championship eras.
Up next is ‘Iolani to open the ILH Division II season on Sept. 2.
“We think we’re going to be in pretty good shape,” Klaneski said. “We’ve got some guys that are going to be eligible soon that will help, but we’re looking at playing pretty much 35 guys, somewhere in there, or so and we feel good about it.”