Back in the day, ‘Iolani’s football field was not so different.
The same scorching South Shore sun. The same occasional breeze drifting down from Palolo and Manoa Valleys. But the bleachers were metal. An afternoon game plus those bleachers could fry an okole or two. Down below, between the old tennis courts was the entrance to that field. The famous ice cream vending machine with three doors and choices. (I miss that thing even if I rarely had the money to buy an ice cream.)
But the most valued instrument in that old, bare-bones facility: the ice-cold water fountain. Always ice cold, and us kids from the neighborhood would be thirsty after a few hours of sandlot baseball or tackle football at the park nearby. A short walk to Club 100 (across the street) or the ‘Iolani water fountain was always worth the trek.
The one constant of ‘Iolani football over the decades has been a willingness to be flexible. To tweak. Experiment. And with some success, maximize. That’s what happened in their 34-14 second-round final (playoff) win over Damien on Friday at Aloha Stadium. The Raiders have employed fly/jet sweep pre-snap motion for some time now. But they also put that near slot to work as an extra blocker against Damien in the ILH D-II second-round final.
With the slot, lined up tightly like a wing back, coming across to block, the Raiders’ running backs had extra open space. (Occasionally, the tackle came across, too.) Damien’s choices were few; commit another defender to stop the run, or hope that six or seven in the box would be enough. Early on, that play didn’t go so well, but as Austin Jim On hit a few passes, the running game softened up a bit inside.
Flexibility? The key play of ‘Iolani’s lone TD drive in the first half began with a wide receiver, Tyler Teruya, lined up as a RB. He went in motion, and when Damien’s safety and LB failed to communicate, they both went wide to the sideline, leaving the middle of the field open. That allowed Keoni-Kordell Makekau to beat his defender on a quick post for an 18-yard gain to the Damien 6-yard line — on fourth and 6.
The little things. Tweaks. Wrinkles. Adding a reverse pivot-type handoff to let the RB run wide left instead of between the tackles. At the right time, it’s the perfect call out of the same set that offers four wides against a very aggressive and strong interior run defense.
‘Iolani picked up 79 yards on the ground on 20 carries in the first half. Not bad at all. Sophomore K.J. Pascua had 45 yards on 11 carries and senior backup Storm Lotomau had 40 yards on just seven attempts. A 4-yard average on the ground might not excite some fans, but for ‘Iolani, this is paramount to perfection.
1. The constancy and time of possession via the ground game allows ‘Iolani’s defense to rest. With roughly one sub per defensive region this year, according to coach Wendell Look, depth is a very real issue. Less snaps for the defense means fresher legs and a lower tendency for injuries.
2. At 6 or 7 yards per carry, most defenses will make severe adjustments. At 4? Most defenses will stick with the same game plan as long as the game is close.
Jim On threw the ball 17 times in the first half, completing passes nine times for 104 yards with one pick. Balance is key to their offense, as is limiting turnovers, and the formula was working well with a 13-0 lead.
Damien, meanwhile, had 45 rushing yards on 16 carries. There were a few gadget/trick plays early in the half, but for the most part, it was their basic offense out of the veer. ‘Iolani’s defense was ready for it. Samson Low, who had rushed for 81 yards against Saint Louis, and 101 and 177 yards (plus three TDs) in wins over Pac-Five, had just four carries for 3 yards by halftime.
‘Iolani was able to siphon off the quick-hitting ground game while still covering Damien’s downfield threats — Kapi‘ina King, in particular. QB Dallas Labanon had 51 passing yards (6-for-12) and the Damien offense had a modest 96 total yards.
The second half wasn’t a whole lot different. The Monarchs ran 17 times for 47 yards and finished with 92 rushing yards on 33 carries (2.8 per). Labanon’s first seven throws of the second half: 0 yards, incompletion, incompletion, incompletion, 8 yards, 2 yards, interception.
The Raiders had the Monarchs’ number, and then some. Labanon finally broke through with a 52-yard pass to King. With a lead of 20 points, then 27, the Raiders could afford to give more cushion defensively. Labanon completed six of his 10 pass attempts during that stretch, including an 11-yard TD toss to King and a 2-yard TD pass to Low.
It was a hearty, but frustrating battle for Damien, which was looking for its first win over ‘Iolani since 2009 — a streak of 15 losses in a row. Their veer attack did its job over the course of time. Defenses had to respect the work of that offensive line and its RBs, but the Monarchs couldn’t get that dangerous aerial show going consistently.
Labanon finished 15-for-32 for 170 yards with two TDs and three picks.
Damien’s target list.
• Bransen Apao: one reception, 13 yards (three targets)
• Kana‘i Picanco: 2-14 (three targets)
• Kaeo Arakaki: 1-3 (three targets)
• King: 6-115, TD (12 targets)
• Low: 4-11, TD (four targets)
• Dutch Claybaugh: 1-32, FL (three targets)
• No. 23 (not listed): 0-0 (one target)
• Justice White: 1-14 (two targets)
Noteworthy: The absence of Ian Lundberg (I didn’t find out if he was injured or not) and King’s reception-to-target ratio. Fifty percent (six receptions, 12 targets) isn’t bad, especially considering he accumulated 115 yards. If he sticks with football at the next level, some interesting things could happen. He’s still developing as a receiver, and you can’t teach height — he’s 6-foot-5. They used him on short and intermediate routes from time to time, and he was pretty good in that scenario, too.
Of course, he could fill out and eventually play tight end, or even defensive end. But I like him as a WR. Nice potential.
Defensively, Damien got an interception from Jarin Manuel, a fumble recovery by Claybaugh and a sack by White.
‘Iolani sometimes fascinates me because Coach Wendell Look and his staff find ways to make it work. They don’t have superior speed this year, though they have good speed offensively. As I mentioned, they are not especially deep this fall, but they have quality at many positions. They have some size up front — OL Kamuela Borden has already committed to UH — but they’re not super hefty and deep there, either.
The offense is not a “pure” run-and-shoot vehicle and hasn’t been for some years. (Even Saint Louis OC Ron Lee doesn’t view his version of the R&S as “pure”.) But it still emphasizes spreading the field and creating gaps, canyons sometimes, to work with. In the end, the Raiders ran the ball 39 times for 204 yards, including 110 yards on 15 carries by Lotomau and 91 on 20 attempts by Pascua.
That’s 125 yards on 19 rushes in the second half. Jim On threw the ball just seven times after the break, completing four for 26 yards. They’ve got enough weaponry to air it out much more. Makekau stretches defenses with his downfield speed. In another offense, say Moanalua or 2013 Kalani, he would probably average 12-15 targets and 100-120 yards per game.
In this offense, it’s less about sheer volume and more about chess pieces. He is VITAL to opening up lanes, as are the other receivers/slots. Makekau had two grabs for 31 yards on four targets, all in the first half. He was invaluable as a kicker with two field goals in the first half. His touchback-machine skills on kickoffs is another key weapon.
The Raiders won’t forget about Makekau, of course. When defenses go single coverage on him, Jim On airs it out. His biggest outputs so far (this season) were 9-154 and a TD against Damien (Aug. 29) and 8-162 and a TD against Kamehameha.
It’s always fun to observe the ‘Iolani offense and the immense value of spreading the field against all defenses. They were doing it years ago, as was Saint Louis (when current DC Delbert Tengan was their head coach, and the Lee brothers before him), and the misdirection game has always been a staple at Lahainaluna during the Bobby Watson/Garret Tihada era. Decades of iron sharpening iron.
‘Iolani’s target list.
• Teruya: 6-18 (eight targets)
• Conor Hannum: 0-0 (one target)
• Makekau: 2-31 (four targets)
• Tamatane Aga: 3-31, TD (four targets)
• Connor Ohira: 2-50 (five targets)
• Pascua: 0-0 (one target)
The efficiency is there. The balance, no question, is there. And the Raiders do it without using their QB as a true running option. Jim On rarely takes off with the purpose of running for yardage. Not to say they’d never do it.
Defensively, stellar play. Interceptions by Quinton Slade-Matautia, Thomas Morisada and Bradley Hayashi. A fumble recovery by Teruya. A sack by Matthew McArthur.
The one battle Damien won was in penalties. The Monarchs had just four flags for 20 yards while ‘Iolani had 13 for 99 yards. It was the lone flaw in an otherwise pristine performance by the defending ILH D-II champions.