There is so much to build on, but the O’Connor Eagles will need some time to get over a 47-35 loss to Campbell.
While the Eagles’ aerial attack was relentless, they trailed the entire way. Campbell led 21-0 in the second quarter and 34-14 in the third. The Eagles never tired, though, and finished with 412 yards of total offense. Most of that came on the constant rollouts and scramble chaos created by senior QB Dylan Simonton. He finished 33-for-56 for 383 yards and five TDs. But after the game, Simonton acknowledged his four interceptions were a factor, even though one was just a Hail Mary toss at the end of the first half.
“Honestly, we want to come out strong from the get-go. We struggle sometimes to come out strong from the start. That’s the thing we need to focus on,” Simonton said. “Everyone fired up right from the get-go.”
O’Connor lost to Campbell 37-20 last year in Arizona. Campbell is a senior-heavy team this time around, while the Eagles lost a host of talent to graduation. They scored 60 points in a win two weeks ago. The explosive four-wide offense has massive potential.
“That’s the point of our hurry-up offense, to tire teams out. I feel we do a pretty good job of that. We just need to execute when we need to execute,” Simonton said.
The sideline was much more of an emotional factor after halftime.
“We took a little bit of time in the locker room to address that. First half, we kind of struggled with that. Second half, better,” Simonton said. “It’s so much easier to play when you have that support on the sideline.”
Campbell never stopped chasing Simonton, who plays much like a taller (5-foot-11) version of Doug Flutie, the former Boston College star and NFL passer. The Sabers sacked him three times and chased him sideline to sideline at least a dozen more times.
“Honestly, they’re a fun team to play. I respect them a lot. I didn’t play in the game last year, but I saw they’re an aggressive team that likes to hit,” Simonton said. “You have to give it 100 percent on every play. That’s something I respect so much.”
Senior wide receiver Damian Ortiz led the pass-catching corps with 96 receiving yards. The group seemed to get stronger as the game went along.
“We’ve worked throughout the whole offseason on conditioning, making sure we’re in shape,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got to learn how to make plays when they need to be made, and less turnovers.”
Longtime coach Steve Casey summed it up.
“I’m very disappointed about losing the game, but I’m proud of our kids for battling and not quitting. We’ve got some good things we did and we can build on that,” he said.
Teammates learning to spark the spirit of their teammates is a priority for the Eagles. It showed — and was heard by fans across the bleachers.
“We always tell our guys, you have a role in our program. If you’re a backup, you have a role. If you’re on the sideline, you have a role,” Casey said. “They didn’t quite do it right away. They got it going in the second half and they kept it going. Hopefully, they understand when they do that, it gives our defense and offense energy, and gives us a chance to come back and do the things we do.”
Casey added that his team will need to tackle better. Protect the football.
“We did create some turnovers. Again, that’s something we can build on,” he said. “Dylan did a good job for us, but sometimes we forget about protecting the football.”
Casey remembers Campbell coach Darren Johnson well. He coached “DJ” at Arizona Western as a wide receiver. Then DJ was on his staff.
“He’s fiery and I knew he would be a coach. He’s got a passion for the game, you can see that when he coaches,” Casey said. “When you come over and play the kids on the island, it’s a physical game. They’re physical, they’re big. They do some things sometimes, maybe, after the whistle that we’re not used to, but that’s Polynesian football.”
Casey, now a physical education teacher at O’Connor, remembers DJ the athlete without a pause.
“He was a really good receiver for us. He played slot receiver for us in junior college. He had good speed, was about a 4.5 kid and was very tough,” he said.
The busy, whirlwind tour since the Eagles landed on Oahu Monday has been memorable, Casey added.
“It’s been a blessing being here with our families. It’s been the trip of a lifetime. Obviously, we wanted to get the win tonight to make it special,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of great memories that we’ve had and we’ll be able to take home to our families and friends. Our kids are under-appreciated by a lot of people, but they’re great citizens, they’re great students. They’re going to be great men when they grow up and great leaders of our country.”