News spreads fast.
On Saturday, moments after Leilehua hung on to edge ‘Iolani 28-25 at Aloha Stadium, the Damien Monarchs were counting their blessings. ‘Iolani dropped into a tie with Damien at 5-2 in ILH Division I play. With only one state-tournament berth allotted to the ILH, the first-place finisher qualifies. Second place turns in the pads.
No. 10 Damien (7-2 overall) needs a win over No. 6 Moanalua (8-0, 6-0 OIA D-I) on Friday at Aloha Stadium. The Monarchs could lose and still share first place with ‘Iolani only if the Raiders lose at Castle, also on Friday. If Damien and ‘Iolani finish the regular season tied, there will be a tiebreaker playoff for the state berth.
Coach Eddie Klaneski chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.
HPW: Well, it’s bittersweet to know one of two very good ILH D-I teams won’t be in the state tournament. It also creates major drama for this final weekend of regular-season games.
Klaneski: This game for them doesn’t have any bearing on their standings. But knowing Coach (Savaii) Eselu, he’s going to take every game seriously. I don’t think any coach approaches a game like this without coaching the kids to be prepared. Last year, he felt like he took the blame when they lost to Castle (in the OIA D-I playoffs) and he doesn’t want that same feeling again. We’re expecting the most out of them.
HPW: How is your team health-wise?
Klaneski: We’re pretty healthy, as healthy as we’ve been all year. Almost everybody’s back.
HPW: I didn’t realize your quarterback, Jake Holtz, would be out for two games. I thought he was out for one game after the ejection in the ‘Iolani game.
Klaneski: In the ILH, any ejection is two games.
HPW: Your sophomore, Logan Lacio, has played so well in the two games. Very sharp, not holding the ball too long. It would be tempting, maybe, to stay with him and let Jake roll in gradually, but this is a make-or-break game and there’s almost nobody in the state who can make a play like him.
Klaneski: It’s a decision we made as a coaching staff. We’ve talked about this at length. We knew the situation, and so do Logan and Jake. We’re proud of the way Logan has played, and Jake has worked hard. We’re very fortunate that Logan did a really, really good job.
HPW: Moanalua is talented, hungry, all the momentum that comes with undefeated team. What pops out for you?
Klaneski: Their talent on offense. They can score any time. Explosive. They have a good quarterback (RJ Javar) and good receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, they’re well coached, tackle well and play super fast. Their two corners (Aukai Grace and Rashod Tanner) can shut people down. They might be the two best as a combination in the state. They can compete at any level. It poses a problem when they can play man and cover. They have a lot of interceptions.
HPW: Normally, Moanalua has some size in the trenches, but not a lot of depth. Are they quick in there?
Klaneski: Their front is disruptive and they give a lot of different looks. It’s going to be a challenge for us to pick up their movement and their blitzes for our offensive line.
HPW: Going into the ‘Iolani game, Damien had just lost at Leilehua after winning the first five games. Does losing help build a stronger team in this case?
Klaneski: We’re definitely better than we were three four weeks ago for sure. Understanding the offense, being able to play faster. Our team was jelling before, but we can do a lot more now. Defensively, it’s the same thing. The boys are understanding more, not making as many mistakes as before. The games that we lost, we lost the turnover battle.
HPW: Jake is such a a unique talent, I wonder if he could be a matchup problem if you use him as a wide receiver. He’s 6-3, 6-4 with great hops and toughness.
Klaneski: I can’t really divulge what we’re going to do. Jake is a really good athlete and probably can play defense, too. We want to be smart and do what we do well.
HPW: I think a lot of fans are wondering what happens with him at the next level. His completion rate is just above 50 percent, but he doesn’t turn the ball over and is a major threat running the ball. I think he could be a good fit in the right program at QB, but might get on the field faster as a WR or even safety.
Klaneski: If he puts on more weight, he already has huge hands. To me, he’s a tight end but he’s a solid 6-3 1/2, one of the fastest, and 215 pounds. He’s already being looked at as a TE, but he wants to be a QB.
HPW: And that’s if he wants to play college football. I know he loves basketball more.
Klaneski: He kinda wants to do both sports. To me, he has a better chance to play D-I football than D-I basketball. After our third game, he’s doing well and he knows he actually can play.
HPW: The problem for defenses with Jake at quarterback is all the dynamics of his talent. He can throw long, he can run for long TDs. Jarvis Natividad is stretching the field and then boom, you hand the ball to Amo Sulu and he’s having a superb senior year. I wonder how Moanalua will counter all this.
Klaneski: I’m not sure what they’re doing. They can’t put eight guys in the box against Amo, we’ll throw the ball.
HPW: Do they use their athleticism to play games at the line of scrimmage in pre-snap like Mark Kurisu does with Leilehua?
Klaneski: Moanalua uses (standup) and will mess around with you. That’s part of their package. Not as much as Kurisu does, but they do it.
HPW: Speaking of trickeration, can Amo throw on the run? I’ve seen a few backward-lateral pass plays the past week or two.
Klaneski: Amo can throw. He has an arm.
HPW: How far can he gun it?
Klaneski: Forty yards. We also have a backup QB in there.
HPW: Every team has its own personality and its own way of playing under pressure. How’s your team dealt with the weekly must-win situation?
Klaneski: What we basically tell them, we are where we started out. We set out to be in the playoff. We have that opportunity, it’s just earlier. This is basically a playoff game. The tournament starts earlier in our minds. It’s win or go home at this point. If ‘Iolani had won last week, all we would be playing for is to beat Moanalua and end their undefeated season. It’s not pressure. This is where we wanted to be. This is what we’ve trained since February for.
HPW: On a side note, what are your expectations when the leagues meet to discuss the interleague pilot program.
Klaneski: They’re waiting until the end of the season, it seems, so it’s hard to put a schedule together (for next year).
HPW: It’s been such a success at every level from D-II up to Open. More games and much more variety. But it could end, too, depending on the administrators.
Klaneski: We’re all worried for sure.
HPW: I know this is way off the map right now, but could you see Damien playing in the Open Division one day? I ask because your program loses key players every year, and yet the next group steps up and keeps the success going.
Klaneski: Down the road, we would love to be in Open. We just need some big boys and we’ll be right there.