Saturday, October 8, 2022
By: Wes Nakama
Starting slow but shifting into high gear with 28 second-quarter points, ‘Iolani sped past visiting Damien, 42-13, Friday afternoon to secure a sixth straight state tournament berth at Eddie Hamada Field.
Micah Ho’omanawanui completed 15 of 20 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown without an interception and Kaeo Kawa’akoa rushed for 53 yards and three TDs on 12 carries as the No. 7-ranked Raiders improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu. Damien freshman quarterback AJ Tuifua completed 8 of 13 attempts for 73 yards before leaving the game late in the second quarter with an apparent injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, forcing the Monarchs (4-3, 2-2) to quickly adjust at a time when ‘Iolani was starting to break out.
“My game plan, my play-calling changed … I wanted to be more aggressive in a sense with A.J. (in the game),” said Damien coach Anthony Tuitele. “But it is what it is, that’s (the injury) what happened, so we just gotta move forward. That’s all we could have done, and my team fought hard … I know everybody felt it was a big loss, but I always preach, ‘Next man up.’ At the end of the day, that’s all we could do, is come out and play hard.”
With Tuifua, whose tall and thick body type resembles more like a senior lineman than freshman quarterback but has surprising mobility and passing accuracy, the Monarchs marched 66 yards in 12 plays on the game’s opening drive before losing the ball on a fourth-and-goal fumble from the 6. That drive munched 6 minutes, 16 minutes off the clock, and Damien got the ball right back after forcing a three-and-out.
After another three-and-out, ‘Iolani’s offense finally got untracked with a 46-yard strike from Ho’omanawanui to Jazz Priester followed by a 20-yard pass to Nela Taliauli, setting up a 2-yard scoring run by Kawa’akoa. The extra point attempt was blocked, leaving the Raiders with a 6-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter.
“The way they were playing us defensively, we needed to hit that one,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said of the deep pass. “That’s what they were daring us to throw, so we needed to take that one there. We hadn’t been able to hit the 9-route of late, so I’m glad we were able to do it today.”
But the Monarchs struck back immediately two plays later, with Dayton Savea finding a big hole off right tackle and scampering 69 yards to paydirt, and Jonah Ching’s extra point put Damien ahead, 7-6.
Ho’omanawanui then went deep again, and Tristan Martinez made a nice 38-yard catch at the Monarchs’ 13-yard line, and Taliauli scored from seven yards out on a fly sweep four plays later. Ho’omanawanui then threaded the needle to connect with Taliauli for the two-point conversion and a 14-7 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half.
“Our offense, and how we play … it just takes one play to get us rolling,” Look said. “(We) showed a lot of maturity today, and it carried over from the first time we played them (a 13-12 victory on Sept. 17). (We’ve) grown since then, and you can see the confidence in themselves. The offense had confidence that they could get great field position.”
Tuifua then led Damien on another slow-but-steady drive, going 38 yards in 10 plays before facing fourth-and-4 from the 37. But his throw downfield was picked off at the 19 by Brayden Morioka, who darted toward the right sideline and then dashed all the way to the end zone. Allison Chang’s PAT made it 21-7 with 2:42 remaining in the second quarter.
“I was kind of baiting it, I knew they like to do curls, so I was trying to bait it and then I saw him throw and I knew it was my ball so I just snatched it out of the air and started running,” said Morioka, a three-year starter at defensive back. “I turned left and saw everyone there, so I just turned right and it was wide open field, so I just went for it.”
Look said it was the big play the Raiders needed to take control of the game.
“It really swung the momentum, and we rely on those kind of guys as someone to lean on,” Look said of Morioka.
The play was a turning point for the Monarchs’ offense, as well, since Tuifua left the game at that juncture and never returned. He spent the second half with his jersey off and his right shoulder wrapped in ice. Look said Tuifua had presented ‘Iolani with a unique challenge.
“The kid is only a freshman, but he’s got some skills and he’s tough guy to bring down,” Look said. “He’s got a live arm, and he’s accurate. So I thought they kind of tried to control the tempo of the game, and they did.”
On the next series, Damien faced fourth-and-1 from its own 20 and Raiders defensive end Ha’aheo Dela Cruz blocked a punt and recovered it on the 13. Kawa’akoa then scored one play later on a run up the middle, and Chang’s extra point made it 28-7 with 1:37 left before halftime.
“We need that kind of production from him,” Look said of Dela Cruz, a senior who has verbally committed to the University of Hawai’i. “He’s gotta be a big-time player and create havoc.”
‘Iolani opened the second half with a 12-play, 63-yard drive capped by Kawa’akoa’s 1-yard scoring run, and Chang’s PAT pushed the lead to 35-7.
Tuitele said compared to the first meeting, the Raiders’ offense stretched the field more vertically this time and forced the Monarchs to react.
“All we had to do was just make plays,” Tuitele said. “What happened differently was they took shots, they challenged our DB’s, they got us in one-on-one situations and won those 50/50 challenges. They beat us on that, and that’s what we struggled on all year. If you watched us play, the 50/50 ball is what got us. When the opportunity comes our way, we gotta make plays, and I felt like we didn’t.”
Look said like the previous five state tournament berths, this one was the result of effort and sacrifice.
“You gotta work every year, it’s not given to you,” Look said. “That’s what we try to express to these kids, is you can’t live on the past and what the other teams did before. You gotta go out and earn it yourselves. And this is yours, you gotta make it your own. They’re earning it this year, we’ve gone through some really trying times physically. But these guys have shown some resilience and showed the character of this team.”
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