They are, after all, a perennial title contender. Again.
When the Pearl City Chargers took the best shots that the Radford Rams had to give, they regrouped, stuck to the game plan and pulled away for a 35-20 win on Saturday.
That earned the Chargers (8-1) a spot in this week’s OIA Division II title game against Nanakuli and guaranteed them a berth in the state tournament.
For a half, it seemed iffy. Radford (6-4) had success moving the ball with QB Andrew Morgan’s versatility at center stage. While Pearl City bottled up Rams RB Chance Cacatian (six carries, 17 yards), ran for 48 yards (just six carries) on a mix of QB keepers and rollout scrambles. Morgan found Cacatian on a beautiful corner route and catch, then found Rashon Osborne for a tremendous catch in the left corner. After Kara Downey’s PAT kick sailed through the uprights, Radford had a 14-13 lead going into halftime.
Things looked a bit bleak. The purple people eaters had just 42 rushing yards on 13 carries, including just 7 yards on three carries by major playmaker Dominic Maneafaiga. But the game plan, it seemed, was truly unveiled after intermission.
Maneafaiga has been a big producer this season, and keeping his touches limited in the first half was probably by design. In addition to the three rushes, he was targeted just three times before the half, making one reception (for 14 yards). (For the record: coming into the game, the senior had 85 carries for 587 yards and eight TDs, and 20 receptions for 310 yards and seven TDs, plus kick returning duties that include two punt returns for TDs and one kickoff return for a TD. In other words, he’s always on the field except for defense.)
True, the Rams did a solid job of sealing off the inside gap to stonewall Maneafaiga, Tala Moeone (five carries, 4 yards) and M.J. Keopuhiwa (three carries, 6 yards).
Maneafaiga got every rushing attempt of the second half for Pearl City, aside from a couple of scrambles by QB Jordan Taamu. Fifteen carries and 57 hard-earned yards later, Maneafaiga and the offensive line were back in control. Sustained drives in the third quarter turned the tide for the Chargers and made life in the pocket much easier for Taamu, who was 9-for-14 for 100 yards and three TD passes in the second half.
Maneafaiga had most of his success running the left side behind left guard Kordell Vaa (6-3, 260) and left tackle Bronson Canyon (5-11, 203).
“My thoughts are pound just as much as I can for my boys. I don’t want anybody to get hurt so if I do my job and me and my (left) tackle attack as hard as we can, no one will get hurt,” Vaa said.
Radford brought constant pressure up the middle, Pearl City reacted and their O-line didn’t permit a sack all night as Taamu finished 18-for-31, 200 yards, five TDs and no picks.
The maturity of the offense shows in the widespread talent that Taamu puts to work. He targeted five receivers, each of whom had at least two receptions. Each had one TD, which is probably the first time I’ve seen five pass catchers catch at least one TD in a game in at least a few weeks.
Pearl City target list.
• Garrett Kanamu: five receptions, 72 yards, TD (seven targets)
• Israel Kaleo: 3-35, TD (10 targets)
• Maneafaiga: 4-38, TD (six targets)
• Keelan Domingo-Ishikawa: 4-32, TD (five targets)
• Keopuhiwa: 2-23, TD (two targets)
Pearl City’s defense was at its best in the second half, thanks in part to the offense’s success on the ground. Leon Dupio came up with a sack of the elusive Morgan. Christopher Kaku was big with a fumble recovery and an interception in the end zone.
But Pearl City’s defense often lacked the self-control and discipline of the offensive unit, collecting a number of personal fouls and accounting for most of the 186 penalty yards on 20 yellow flags.
That’s right. TWENTY.
While teams keep winning the postseason by reducing penalties in the second half, Pearl City got worse. Coach Robin Kami says it’s an ongoing issue that has been addressed many times. Nothing seems to be working.
“Again, I’ve got to talk to the kids. I’m the head coach and that’s on me,” Kami said. “We’re not even supposed to be there. I’ve got to get on them, keep on getting through to their head. We’ve disciplined them, running. Hopefully, it gets through for next game. I don’t think we can give Nanakuli 180 yards. They’re too good to give them extra yards.”
The Chargers haven’t forgotten their lone loss, 28-21, at Nanakuli a few weeks ago. Even two years ago, Nanakuli beat Pearl City for the JV crown (OIA White).
“Somehow, some way, they always beat us in the big game. Hopefully, the kids can rise to the occasion in this next game,” Kami said.
Taamu, listed at 6-2 and 185 pounds, looks more like 6-3, which he says is true. He had a very good performance that night against Nanakuli until fumbling a shotgun snap on the potentially game-tying drive.
“That hurt me a lot. That will never happen again, I’ll tell you that,” Taamu said. “We’ll practice this whole week hard and get ready for Nanakuli.”
“We just got to put in our work at practice,” Maneafaiga said. “Usually, we kind of slack off. We’ve just got to work hard, listen to the coaches and become disciplined. We’ve got to do our best.”
Coach Fred Salanoa’s Radford squad showed a lot of resilience this season even after losing some key players who transferred. Justin Lugo was outstanding with five grabs for 69 yards and two TD catches. Morgan ran for 71 yards (13 carries) and threw for 140 yards in the face of a tough Chargers pass rush. He was 10-for-25 with three TD passes and one pick before leaving late in the game with a broken finger.
Rams target list.
• Solomon Loggins: 2-15 (four targets)
• Lugo: 5-69, 2 TD (12 targets)
• Jonathan Lafoy-Vance: 1-6 (two targets)
• Thomas Reid: 2-47 (seven targets)
• Cacatian: 1-10, TD (one target)
• Jacob Nishitomi: 0-0 (one target)