Slow the run, pay the air tax


On a night when two normally prolific running backs — Michael Feliciano of Moanalua and Challen Faamatau of Farrington — found just about every nook and cranny occupied by the enemy, the fate of their title-contending teams may have gone in opposite directions.

Moanalua isn’t a widely accepted title contender, but certainly most fans can agree that they are a playoff threat. Feliciano, who is capable of breaking off a 200-yard rushing game any time, was limited to 3.5 yards per carry (20 attempts, 70 yards). It was an opportunity for young Alakai Yuen to step up, and that he did. Before he went down with a stinger during a crucial fourth-quarter drive, he had completed 21 of his 35 pass attempts for 345 yards and five touchdowns — without a pick.

Na Menehune were inside the Farrington 40-yard line, down 36-35 at the time. Inching toward field-goal range was the least they probably expected with the passing game going so well. Yuen ability to spiral the ball deep belies relatively slender frame, and his receiving corps came up big, too. Ryan Romonnes? Six catches, 115 yards with scoring hauls of 40 and 28 yards. Brandon Bender? Four grabs for 128 yards, a deep 6-pointer from 78 yards out. Isaiah Jackson? Four receptions, 65 yards, one TD of 17 yards.

Of course, the versatile Feliciano was a force in open space with nine catches for 48 yards. He was a mainstay last year with the most intriguing combination of statistics — he was more effective as a pass catcher than rusher, if I remember right — that I saw among RBs.

But Farrington did all it could to neutralize the hard-running Feliciano. Respect given via a multitude of hard hits and tackles, then helping the fella in the white Moanalua jersey (No. 1) right back up each time. He went down with an injury on one run that went for a loss — four times in the first half, the Govs brought him down behind the line of scrimmage — but he came right back.

The same went for Faamatau, who was often bottled up and held down for just 58 rushing yards on 18 carries, barely 3 yards per attempt. But it was the Govs’ ingenious use of the sticky-fingered running back that was amazing. He pulled in balls that were delivered with precision by QB Bishop Rapoza, and often enough there was nearly zero separation from Moanalua’s safeties. I haven’t edited the game video yet, but on the surface, I’d grade Moanalua’s downfield coverage on Faamatau as an A-. Or higher.

He just makes incredible catches. I know Stickum has been illegal for decades, but I haven’t really seen a guy covered that tightly consistently make these grabs while being completely draped — after going in motion out of the backfield — in a long time, if ever.

I’m not saying he’s the next Chad Owens, though seeing Faamatau run impeccable routes and make plays after the catch recently (as in last week’s game at ‘Iolani) made me think a bit more than once. Especially last night on that field at Roosevelt, where Owens plied his craft as a high schooler.

Faamatau finished with 97 receiving yards (seven catches) and was often a go-to guy for Rapoza, who by no means was looking only for No. 13 in the maroon jersey. Kingston Moses-Sanchez was spectacular at times (10 receptions, 177 yards) with one catch on a deep ball looking very much like a Division-I college prospect hauling in the ball, in stride, on a beautifully thrown ball.

“I thought I overthrew him,” Rapoza said after the game.

No other Governor had more than two grabs, but it was more than enough variation to keep Moanalua’s defense off-center. There were enough tosses to the tight end, enough gives to fullback/destroyer-of-bad-technique tacklers Freedom Alualu, and, of course, threat of Rapoza as a runner.

It wasn’t like Farrington was looking to air the ball out 33 times; Rapoza completed 21 for 315 yards and three TDs with just one pick. But this is a new era for the Govs. They worked their tails off this offseason to diversify their passing game. Rapoza transferred from Moanalua just five months ago to his new football home and has blended in seamlessly. It didn’t hurt that Rapoza had played with Moses-Sanchez way back when they were still in middle school.

But it’s clear that they’ve got more than enough balance than usual this season. All those passing and receiving marks that Billy Hull and Jerry Campany have been eyeballing — I’ve got no doubt that some of those old Governor school records are on the verge of being erased.


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