The season almost came crashing down for No. 9 ‘Iolani in a 33-28 win over Castle on Friday night.
Multiple times, too.
Castle had a chance to take the lead twice in the waning minutes of a must-win game for ‘Iolani, but the Raiders defense held strong to keep its state-tournament hopes alive.
No. 10 Damien’s 22-17 win over No. 6 Moanalua became final mere minutes before ‘Iolani’s kickoff in Kaneohe. The Raiders would have to win to match the Monarchs’ 8-2 overall record and force a one-game playoff for the right to represent the ILH in the HHSAA Division I state tournament. After barely escaping on Friday, the Oct. 25 matchup with the Monarchs at Aloha Stadium is set.
“We’re lucky to get away with a win here,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “We didn’t finish well. We got a lot of work to do.”
It didn’t appear that the Raiders would struggle against Castle in the early going. Quarterback Jonah Chong completed three consecutive passes for 37 yards in the game’s opening possession before rushing for a 22-yard touchdown with 10:14 remaining in the first quarter.
But Castle responded with a touchdown of its own during its first possession, leaning heavily on Kala Matthews on direct snap runs. He ran the ball 13 times on the team’s first drive alone, finishing it off with a 9-yard touchdown.
Wailoa Manuel scored all the points for ‘Iolani in the second quarter. His 22-yard field goal gave the Raiders a 10-7 lead. On the next drive, he hauled in a 5-yard touchdown from Chong and knocked the extra point.
The Knights cut the lead to 17-14 at the half after Matthews’ 3-yard rushing touchdown with 22 seconds left in the second quarter.
Behind a pair of Brock Hedani 3-yard rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, the Raiders led 31-14 entering the final period. But Castle, which was already eliminated from OIA playoff contention with a loss to Kailua last week, certainly made it interesting in the end.
Chazz Tom scored on 1-yard run with 5:46 remaining. The Knights then forced an ‘Iolani punt on a three-and-out. On the next play, Kila Kaio and Jonah Figueroa connected on a 72-yard touchdown with 3:08 left.
The Knights forced another punt to get the ball back on its own 3 with 2:05 left. A high snap caused Matthews to get tackled in the end zone. Although ‘Iolani recovered the ensuing onside kick, the Knights got the ball one last time on its own 17 with 21 seconds left, but a desperation pass at the end barely crossed midfield.
“We had to take care of what we needed to take care of, that’s all we focused on,” Look said. “We’re fortunate to come away with a win.”
Had the Knights scored to get the win, ‘Iolani would’ve finished its season 7-3, with each of its losses by a thin one-possession margin. Instead, it gets a rematch with the Monarchs, a team it beat 38-21 on Sept 20.
‘Iolani’s 28-25 loss to No. 8 Leilehua on Oct. 5 opened the door for Damien to force the one-game playoff. But it didn’t come easy for the Monarchs, who squared off against a Moanalua team that was undefeated before Friday. Na Menehune beat ‘Iolani 21-20 on Aug. 10.
Although ‘Iolani and Damien have the same record, there is no tiebreaker rule that gives the Raiders the ILH’s spot. Come Oct. 25, Look’s team will have to earn it all over again.
“Kudos to Damien, they had the tougher road. They had some tough games where they had to come through and win,” Look said. “They did what they had to do and it comes down to one game now.”