It was the play that set the tone.
It was also, as Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said, a 14-point swing. When ‘Iolani defensive tackle Shayden Molina and safety Lanakila Pei teamed up to stop Damien quarterback Jake Holtz at the goal line on the first series of the game, there was no telling what it would mean. Pei timed it perfectly, knocking the ball out of the hands of Holtz, who had stretched his arms out. KC Bell recovered for the Raiders on what may have been the most miraculous defensive stop of the season statewide.
There was still well over three quarters of football to play. But it turned out to be the most epic defensive play in a battle between two superb defensive units. ‘Iolani’s 21-14 win broke the tie in the ILH Division I standings and earned the Raiders the coveted, lone state-tournament berth allotted to the league.
The stop at the goal line was one of many plays the Raiders had wired into their imaginations, much like Damien’s defense did to ‘Iolani’s offensive package. ‘Iolani may have taken it to another level, though, on the leap attempt over the goal line by Holtz. The senior is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, a high-energy dunker on the basketball court.
“We knew he was going to hop over the top,” said Molina, who also plays basketball. “Our game plan was to take him out at the front and Lanakila knock it out at the top. We were hoping. We came through and we’re happy for that. That was one of the biggest things we practiced.”
Pei, at 5-11, went airborne to meet Holtz, or rather, the football.
“We expect our best all the time, for sure,” Molina said.
Coach Wendell Look saw the focus and attention to detail by ‘Iolani’s defensive unit in two weeks of practice. It wasn’t all about Damien’s quarterback sneak, but it was a priority.
“These guys are smart kids. They watch film. (Damien) did it to us the first game. Credit to them. Our guys made plays when they had to make plays. They’re rock solid, as usual. We ride the defense. The defense has been rock solid all year. Great effort,” Look said.
Pei came up big again in the fourth quarter, returning a Damien fumble on a botched handoff 18 yards to the end zone. That opened ‘Iolani’s lead to 21-7 with 9:19 to play.
The Raiders kept dangerous wide receiver/returner Jarvis Natividad contained with a season-low 28 receiving yards against a Hawaii opponent.
“We play team defense. Del (Tengan) comes up with a scheme and these kids are smart enough to execute it,” Look said.
They also did enough to keep Holtz from running wild consistently. The talented playmaker scored both of Damien’s touchdowns, including a 34-yard run, but for most of the night, he saw heavy coverage. With running back Amo Sulu hampered by a torn meniscus suffered in Damien’s previous game, the Monarchs couldn’t move the ball effectively in the final quarter.
Brock Hedani churned out key first downs as ‘Iolani held the ball for nine minutes in the last quarter.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball to be successful on offense. They know that. You’ve got to credit the offensive line. They had some adjustments to make,” Look said. “I’m happy for these kids. This is the goal they set out to do, and we took this step to get closer to that goal. We’ve got some work to do.”