Timing isn’t always everything.
But Damien could have used a break or two on Friday night. The Monarchs came into a huge showdown with ‘Iolani, with a Division I state-tournament berth at stake and an ailing Amo Sulu. The talented and highly productive running back tore his meniscus in a must-win battle with Moanalua two weeks ago, but suited up and played as best he could against ‘Iolani.
Sulu came into the game with 1,225 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. The junior gutted it out against ‘Iolani with 17 carries for 82 hard-earned yards, but the Raiders held on for a 21-14 win at Aloha Stadium.
“He was going full speed, pretty much. He looked pretty good until he got banged up at the end,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said. “He was running pretty hard. They just had a good game plan for him. He had a few spurts here and there. He was pretty close to 100 percent. His injury is very minimal. They didn’t have to do anything to it. We weren’t really worried about that. He played hard. (‘Iolani) just shut him down on defense. They played hard.”
Damien, ranked No. 9 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, ended the season at 8-3. No. 10 ‘Iolani (9-2) advances to the state tourney in a quest to win its first D-I state title.
The Raiders’ defensive scheme took away another key performer, wide receiver Jarvis Natividad. He finished with three receptions for a season-low 28 yards against Hawaii opponents.
The most pivotal play came early on, when Damien took the opening kickoff and drove to the ‘Iolani 1-yard line. Jake Holtz tried a sneak, and there was no signal for several seconds. On second and goal, he tried to leap over the pile, but ‘Iolani’s Shayden Molina met him low, and safety Lanakila Pei met Holtz in mid-air, blocking the ball as Holtz extended. The ball went free, recovered by ‘Iolani’s KC Bell.
Klaneski wasn’t sure if the right call was made.
“To be honest with you, from where our coaches were, they said (Holtz) was in the end zone, but they didn’t call it for a touchdown. We actually thought we were in the first time, before that, but (‘Iolani) made a great play. You can’t do anything about it. They got the breaks on that. Good job on their end,” Klaneski said. “That’s a 14-point swing for us. That was a huge momentum changer early in the game.”
A few plays later, ‘Iolani’s Jonah Chong found Carter Kamana on a short out pattern, and Kamana turned it into a 99-yard TD.
“We talk to our kids about playing situational football. Give credit to Carter Kamana. He’s a big kid, hard to tackle. We should’ve made the tackle. We missed the tackle, but the kid (Kamana) is no slouch,” Klaneski said.
A fumble on an exchange between Holtz and Sulu turned into a scoop-and-score 18-yard TD for Pei in the second half. The Monarchs kept their focus, waiting for opportunity. They got within 21-14 on an eight-yard TD run by Holtz with 8:08 left. They never got inside the red zone again.
“Things could have been a lot different, but our kids battled back. They fought, they showed that they wanted to go back and win,” Klaneski said. “We were down two scores at halftime. We talked to them and they came back and played a much better second half. We just made too many mistakes at the end of the day and you can’t do that against a team like ‘Iolani.”