Amo Sulu could only watch the final 24 minutes on Friday as No. 10 Damien battled to extend its season.
By then, the junior running back’s efforts in the first 24 had helped power the Monarchs into the lead and they hung on for a 22-17 win over sixth-ranked and previously unbeaten Moanalua at Aloha Stadium, assuring the Monarchs of another game.
Sulu ran for 114 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown before taking a hit on his knee late in the second quarter. He was helped off the field and emerged from the locker room after halftime with an ice pack on his right knee. He spent the rest of the game seated on the Damien sideline as the Monarchs built a 22-0 lead then held off a Na Menehune rally late in the fourth quarter.
“It felt bad at first but I’m just glad we got that win,” Sulu said. “I’ll heal up this week and play in next week’s game.”
Sulu said he had a bruise on his kneecap, and “I should be 100 percent the next game.”
As Sulu and the Monarchs (8-2, 6-2 ILH D-I) walked up the north tunnel, their opponent in that next game had yet to be determined with ‘Iolani still approaching kickoff at Castle. Damien’s win secured the Monarchs at least a tie in the ILH Division I race with a possible playoff for the league’s state-tournament berth with an ‘Iolani win in Kaneohe.
‘Iolani beat Castle 33-28, setting up a winner-take-all playoff at Aloha Stadium on Oct. 25.
“Our main focus was to get the W. We weren’t even thinking about that game,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said. “We were focusing on us tonight. We lost it a little bit in that fourth quarter, but were proud of how our kids played in the first three and we just have to go back and correct that stuff because we cant do that against ‘Iolani if we’re playing them in two weeks.”
Damien has been in playoff mode since dropping a 38-21 decision to ‘Iolani on Sept. 20 and closed the regular season with three consecutive wins to catch the Raiders and set up a possible rematch with even higher stakes.
“Since we lost to ‘Iolani we were motivated and we just came out banging and we knew we had to get this W to play ‘Iolani again,” Sulu said.
Sulu entered the game with 1,111 yards and wasted little time in adding to the total in a first half highlighted by a 55-yard burst in the first quarter. Quarterback Jake Holtz finished off that drive with a 5-yard run and a 2-point conversion pass gave Damien an 8-0 lead.
“(Sulu’s) a gamebreaker for us,” Klaneski said. “River (Iaea) can run the football too, but he also plays defense so it’s hard to leave him in there the whole time. But I think we’ll be OK. (Sulu’s) a tough kid and we’ll get him back on track.”
Sulu went over the century mark in the second quarter and capped a time-consuming drive with a 2-yard plunge to push Damien ahead 15-0. With Sulu sidelined, the Monarchs struck early in the third quarter and Iaea powered in from 8 yards out to extend the lead to 22-0.
“We still were able to move the ball, we just had a couple turnovers that gave (Moanalua) a chance,” Klaneski said. “That was what we talked about, not losing that turnover battle.
“We just have to be better, we have to protect the ball make better decisions in certain situations and just protect the football.”
The Damien defense kept the Na Menehune passing game under wraps until a late surge in the fourth quarter when RJ Javar completed touchdown passes to Rudy Kealohi (16 yards) and Jansen York (51 yards).
“They had a dominant offense and they’re pass game was incredible,” said Iaea, who played running back and linebacker. “So we had to contain those wide receivers and keep contain on the quarterback too.”
Despite taking its first loss of the season, Moanalua (8-1, 6-0) will remain the top seed in the OIA D-I playoffs and awaits its opening-round opponent.
“I gave Coach Klaneski the best we got and they dominated,” Moanalua coach Savai’i Eselu said. “We were trying to see how we play against the run but after a while, we said screw it, let’s just play. Turned out too little too late.”