If Friday night’s ILH Division II football game between Damien and St. Francis was scored like Saturday’s Gennady Golovkin–Canelo Alvarez fight, the Monarchs went into intermission taking a standing eight count.
Held to 14 total yards in the first half, Damien roared to life with four second-half touchdowns to come from behind and stun St. Francis 27-20 at Skippa Diaz Stadium.
Akila Arecchi‘s 33-yard touchdown reception with 2:11 remaining gave Damien its first lead, and sophomore defensive back Kyle Kinney delivered the knockout blow when he broke up St. Francis quarterback Bubba Akana‘s fourth-down pass with less than 20 seconds left to complete one of the best games of the 2017 season.
“I think this win solidifies our spot in the state,” Damien third-year starting quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina said. “We’re a good team and a lot of people underestimate us, but that’s fine, because it’s always been like that. Now things run through Houghtailing (Street) and we’ve just got to realize that.”
The victory gave St. Francis (5-1, 3-0) the first-round title in a highly competitive ILH Division II race. St. Francis (4-2, 2-1) suffered its first loss against a Division II team this season despite leading 12-0 at the break.
The two teams play again to close out the regular season on Oct. 7.
“I think the mind-set we got being able to come out of this game with a victory is going to help us,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said. “We’re never going to look past this team. They’re tough as nails and they are going to come back with a vengeance at us.”
The Saints have ended their previous two seasons in position to challenge for the Division II title, but the Monarchs have been just a little bit better both times.
St. Francis looked like the much better team over the first 24 minutes, holding the Monarchs to 14 total yards while racking up 123 of their own.
Sophomore running back Jonan Aina-Chaves finished with 166 total yards (122 rushing, 40 receiving) and junior quarterback Bubba Akana threw for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
However, that same stout defense that gave up nothing in the first half couldn’t stop Damien late. The Monarchs scored touchdowns on their last three meaningful drives before taking a knee to end it.
“At the end of the day, our kids toughened up and showed heart,” Klaneski said. “I think our conditioning kind of paid off in the second half.”
Damien made some adjustments in the second half. It moved running back Keoua Kauhi to fullback and used Logan Lauti at running back which helped open up the running game.
Lauti had 52 hard-fought rushing yards on seven carries, and a trick play resulted in Damien’s first score.
Faufata-Pedrina threw a backwards pass to Arecchi, who then found Lindon Sevilleja in the end zone on a 23-yard scoring strike.
Arecchi said this week was the first time they tried it in practice.
“It was a beautiful pass,” Faufata-Pedrina said.
Faufata-Pedrina was just 3-for-9 for 11 yards in the first half but came through completing six of his final eight passes.
He threw three touchdown passes in the final 13 minutes, including the go-ahead score on a throw across his body to Arecchi, who went up to snare it with two hands and then stretched over the goal line with the ball before he hit the ground to put Damien ahead 27-20.
“When I turned around, I saw how close I was (to the goal line) and I wasn’t going to go down,” Arecchi said. “I was trying to push it across.”
It gave Damien the inside track on a third consecutive appearance in the state tournament. If the Monarchs close out a third consecutive league title, they will play in the Division I state tournament for the first time after declaring for D-I at the beginning of the month.
The Saints, though, still control their own destiny. Win out, including a victory over Damien, and the two teams will meet a third time for the league crown.
“This was part one,” Arecchi said. “Part one is over and we know we’re going to face them again.”