It’s not too often that you have a winning season, win your final game … and pack it up for the year without a trophy to show for it.
Yet that was the case for Damien on Saturday night. The Monarchs traveled to Castle and defeated the OIA playoff-bound Knights 26-10 behind a breakout game from running back Logan Lauti, then celebrated a 5-4 year (5-3 ILH Division I) with family and supporters on their way to the team bus in Kaneohe.
They knew their fate coming into the night; there was no shock of realization that many winning teams experience with a sudden end to things after a late-season game. Indeed, there was clarity about what comes next for Eddie Klaneski’s bunch.
“This year we struggled with bonding with each other,” said the 5-foot-7 junior Lauti, who scored touchdowns of 8, 14 and 32 yards. “This is a pretty young team, and next year, we should be fine. We just gotta bond a little more as a team, and we’ll get better from there.”
Lauti entered the night with three touchdowns and 319 yards rushing on the season, usually playing a secondary role to sophomore Aperamo Sulu. But it was Lauti’s time to shine, as he finished with 175 yards on 25 carries and crossed the goal line as many times as he did the previous eight games combined.
“He had a great game. He’s a tough runner, hard to tackle. Makes guys miss,” Klaneski said. “He’s gonna be a guy that we put the work on his shoulders next year, and hopefully we have a great offseason, train, and come back really strong for next year.”
Junior quarterback Jake Holtz had the Monarchs’ other touchdown, a 13-yard fade to senior receiver Lindon Sevilleja in the third quarter to make it 20-10.
“I think we’re just excited and happy for our seniors to get those guys out on a good note with a winning season,” Klaneski said of his team’s 12 seniors. “If you watched the game you could see we have a bunch of young guys that did really well, that kind of carried us throughout the game. Our running back, our quarterback, a couple receivers. Our defense is really, really young, and those guys played hard-nosed. We’re just excited about the future of the team.”
It was the pilot year of the ILH-OIA crossover system. With the way the ILH is aligned for Division I — just ‘Iolani and Damien — only one of the two gets in for states, and there’s no league playoff once all all crossover games (and ‘Iolani vs. Damien head-to-head) are counted toward their league record.
Under the current stipulation, ILH teams are traveling to their OIA counterparts for just about all the crossover games. Damien lost to ‘Iolani (30-19), Moanalua (31-13), and Leilehua (23-17) to fall out of contention with ‘Iolani (7-1 ILH D-I) with a couple games to play.
Klaneski was asked what tweaks to the pilot program he’d like to see in Year 2.
“Well, I definitely would want to see (it) allow us to have a couple more home games, or at least in the (Aloha) Stadium, or Farrington, neutral site, things like that, so we can kind of do our thing when we need to,” Klaneski said. “Just kind of make it fair. I think the way it was set up, it’s pretty good. We get to play a lot of teams. But just make it a little more (even). I don’t think playing outside of our stadium is that bad, but just to kind of even it out a little bit more.
“Other than that, we just gotta continue to work on our end and get better,” he added. “There’s a lot of good teams in the OIA. We’re a game or two away from making it in there. Hat’s off to those guys that did a great job, ‘Iolani, Leilehua, Moanalua, those guys did a great job this year. We just came up short with them. We definitely gotta do some work next year to work on our stuff. Whatever format, whatever they do, we just gotta improve ourselves. Look within our own program and get better, otherwise it’s going to be the same thing. We don’t want to make too many excuses about the other thing, because it basically fell on us not being able to produce and win games on our own. So, the format is what it is and we’re just going to do our best whatever happens.”
Castle (4-6, 4-3) was already set for the playoffs coming into the night. The Knights will face top OIA seed Moanalua at Farrington next Saturday at a time to be determined, according to coach John Hao.