Through the first six games of the season, Damien running back Keoua Kauhi served as the Monarchs’ set-up man.
On Friday, he was the closer.
Kauhi entered Friday’s play as Damien’s leading rusher with 486 yards, but none of the junior’s 83 carries ended in the end zone.
After the Monarchs fell behind 28-0 in the first quarter against ‘Iolani, Kauhi helped spark Damien’s second comeback win in as many weeks by finishing off three touchdown runs, including the game-winner in overtime in the Monarchs’ dramatic 42-35 win at Kozuki Stadium.
“It was a blessing. The whole season I was producing for the offense but I thought this was my game and I’m going to show out for my boys,” Kauhi said.
Kauhi ran for 106 yards on 22 carries and powered for his first rushing touchdown of the season with a punishing 17-yard burst to cut ‘Iolani’s lead to 28-21 with 1:03 left in the second quarter.
Damien drew to within a point with 5:44 left in the third quarter on quarterback Marcus Faufata-Pedrina’s 3-yard run. The extra-point attempt hit the goalpost to keep ‘Iolani ahead and the Raiders responded with a seven-play scoring drive capped by quarterback Tai-John Mizutani’s 3-yard run.
But Damien answered again when Kauhi scored on a 7-yard burst. On the 2-point conversion attempt, Faufata-Pedrina rolled to his right and connected with Jarvis Natividad to tie the game at 35-35 with 10:43 left in regulation.
‘Iolani thwarted Damien’s next drive with Micah Shikada’s interception in the end zone with 3:58 left and the game went into overtime.
Damien took the ball first and Kauhi sprinted around the right side for a 15-yard gain. He then finished off the possession with a 5-yard touchdown run to give Damien its first lead of the afternoon.
“All glory to my offensive line. Without them, none of this would be possible,” said Kauhi, who also caught four passes for 59 yards.
‘Iolani’s overtime possession ended with JT White intercepting Mizutani’s deep ball to give Damien — the defending ILH Division II champion — another comeback win a week after overcoming a 13-point third-quarter deficit against St. Francis last week.
“We have a special team and we’re a championship team. … Some things didn’t go our way (early) and that’s football,” Faufata-Pedrina said. “But we’re a special team, we came together and we just know how to pull out games.”
The win over St. Francis propelled Damien into the Star-Advertiser top 10 for the first time in 14 years. But it appeared the Monarchs’ stay would be brief after Mizutani led ‘Iolani to touchdowns on its first two possessions — starting with a 63-yard strike to Justin Genovia — and the Raiders defense returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
“They never quit in the game, we were down 28-0 like this,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said, snapping his fingers. “We were on the sideline, everybody’s kind of cool, nobody got kind of crazy, but we settled down a little and just made plays and slowly climbed back in the game.”
While Klaneski would probably prefer not have to fight uphill quite so often, Damien’s last two wins spoke to the Monarchs’ fortitude.
“This is a huge one and just to do it against such a good team like ’Iolani on their field it was amazing,” Klaneski said. “I would say this is one of the best ones we’ve had and I’m glad we’re learning how to come back and finish games.
“That last couple years in the state tournament we weren’t able to do that, we came up short at the end,” he added, referring to thwarted comebacks against Konawaena and Kapaa. “The last two games, these guys closed it out and it was unbelievable to see.”
In the loss, Mizutani threw for 303 yards to move into second on ‘Iolani’s career passing yardage chart with 6,358. He passed Kiran Kepo’o (6,276) and is 262 behind school record holder Reece Foy. He also passed Radford’s Cody Lui-Yuen, Mililani’s Jarin Morikawa and Kepo’o into 11th among Oahu passers.