You could hear the disappointment in Eddie Klaneski‘s face and see the frustration with every pained expression.
After Damien’s 37-14 loss to ‘Iolani back in late August, Klaneski wasn’t a coach happy that his team stayed close with the 10-time defending ILH Division II champions through two and a half quarters. There were no moral victories here. Even though the Monarchs hadn’t beaten ‘Iolani in their last 15 tries, Klaneski walked onto the ‘Iolani campus that day expecting to beat the Raiders.
He’ll feel the same way stepping onto Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium on Friday.
Damien gets the rematch it has wanted ever since that hot Saturday afternoon at Kozuki Stadium when a 17-14 ‘Iolani lead late in the third quarter turned into a 23-point victory after the Monarchs threw three interceptions in a nine-minute span.
Quarterback Dallas Labanon started his first game of the year against ‘Iolani and has improved every time out since. In his first three starts, Labanon was 25-for-71 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. Over his last three games, he’s 42-for-77 for 556 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions, which includes a 4-TD performance against third-ranked Saint Louis.
Labanon has had a strong rushing attack to lean on recently as well. Running back Samson Low, who had a career-high 171 yards in a win over Pac-Five last week, is averaging 117.7 yards on the ground in his last three games.
‘Iolani is ‘Iolani. The Raiders are precise on offense with an efficient quarterback in Austin Jim On and an improved running game this year with sophomore KJ Pascua, who finished second in rushing in the ILH behind Punahou’s Wayne Taulapapa. Receiver Tyler Teruya has stepped up as a senior and junior Keoni-Kordell Makekau, who has put up modest numbers compared to his sophomore year, is ready for a breakout performance at any time.
In the first meeting, this offense was held in check by Damien until the turnovers did the Monarchs in. Falling behind two scores in the fourth quarter meant getting away from being balanced on offense and having to throw the ball on almost every play, which is exactly what the Monarchs need to avoid.
Receiver Kapiinaokala King, who is 6-foot-5, should be good for at least a couple of big plays in the passing game. His height gives him a huge advantage on deep balls against a smaller ‘Iolani secondary, which adjusted in the second half in the first meeting and did a better job going up and battling King on each pass.
King is playing his first year of football after Klaneski tried and tried to get him to try out in recent years. He’s seen his production improve over the last four games, catching at least four balls and one touchdown in every one with a season-best six receptions last Friday against Pac-Five.
Two-way player Kana’i Picanco, who is a force at linebacker, has seen a lot more playing time on offense in recent weeks, catching seven balls for 143 yards in the last three games.
Damien will have to pull out of the stops to try and unseat the 10-time defending ILH Division II champs. Fifteen straight losses to ‘Iolani also tells the story of the difference in talent between the two schools.
Klaneski has done a lot to change that and now has the opportunity to get the results. Makekau’s ability to convert field goals from 25 to 40 yards could be really important for ‘Iolani, like it was in the first meeting. But a close game in the fourth quarter could mean an upset.
Problem is, for Damien to get its first ILH title since 2003, it would have to beat ‘Iolani a second time next week.
First thing’s first though. Win on Friday night or the season is over.