The last time Aperamo Sulu appeared on a football field, he was being driven out of Vidinha Stadium.
The Damien freshman running back suffered a leg injury on the Monarchs’ first play from scrimmage in a state tournament win over Kauai last November and left the stadium in an ambulance.
Just over nine months later, Sulu appeared to be back at full strength in his return to action on Friday. He started at running back for the Monarchs and ran for 54 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries and caught two passes for 35 yards in Damien’s 28-6 win over Radford at John E. Velasco Stadium.
“That kid worked hard in the offseason, he probably put on 15, 20 pounds,” Damien coach Eddie Klaneski said. “Got a lot bigger, a lot stronger. Hopefully he can stay healthy because we’re going to use him to run the ball. … He’s got a little bit of power, a little quickness, so we’re happy about him and excited about what he can do.”
Sulu’s ground game complemented the passing production of junior Jake Holtz, who threw for two scores in his first start.
At 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds, Holtz provides a sizable presence at a position commanded by Marcus Faufata-Pedrina the previous three seasons. As a senior, the Monarchs playmaker threw for 2,224 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed 503 yards and seven more scores, often creating big plays through sheer will.
With Faufata-Pedrina completing his high school career in last year’s Division I state championship game loss to Hilo, Holtz, a transfer from Saint Louis, completed 18 of 30 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the Monarchs’ season-opening win.
“It’s big shoes to fill, he came in, stepped up,” Klaneski said. “He has a lot of work to do but he did a good job. He settled own a little bit, but we’re going to keep working. We’re not satisfied with anything we did tonight, but coming out healthy and with the victory is the most important thing to us.”
Damien and Radford both struggled with penalties throughout the night and Monarchs receiver Lindon Sevilleja had two big gains, including a touchdown called back. But Damien scored on its final two drives of the second quarter to take a 14-0 into halftime.
Midway through the second quarter, Holtz went 4-for-4 in a six-play scoring drive. He hit Jarvis Natividad over the middle for 26 yards then threw a fade to Sevilleja for a 13-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
On Damien’s next possession, Holtz led a 10-play, 64-yard march highlighted by Sulu’s 20-yard reception on a screen pass and capped by Sulu’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
The defense added to the lead when sophomore Bubba Kauhi recovered an errant punt snap in the end zone. Kauhi ended Radford’s next possession as well with an interception.
The Monarchs converted another takeaway, Jon Dalmacio’s fumble recovery, into a touchdown pass from Holtz to Logan Lauti.
Radford converted Damien’s lone turnover of the night into a four-play, 14-yard drive that ended with Emmanual Stevenson making a 1-yard touchdown catch from Hunter Copp with 2:10 left.
The Monarchs head further west next week to take on Nanakuli. Radford (0-2) faces Waipahu at home.