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‘Iolani holds off Saint Louis I-AA, 40-28

By: Wes Nakama

Heading into the “meat” of its schedule, ‘Iolani is still undefeated at 3-0 but also still trying to keep all of its pieces together after suffering through early illness and injury. The Raiders held on Friday afternoon to beat visiting Saint Louis I-AA, 40-28, at warm and sunny Eddie Hamada Field.

But their roster — which began with 40 players listed in the season opener last month — suffered two more crucial hits in the victory, as starting kicker/punter Tanner Shum suffered a leg injury and slotback Tyger Hayashi appeared to hurt his collar bone. Both left the game and did not return. This comes one week before the Raiders’ Sept. 15 showdown at Kapolei and two weeks before a Homecoming matchup against ILH rival Damien.

It also follows a canceled game versus Farrington last month, after several of ‘Iolani’s players got sick with COVID-19.

“That’s (illness and injury) what’s been plaguing us all year,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “But there was no focus today, no energy. We gotta do better than that. These guys need to play, they need experience, and it showed today.”

Things looked bright early on Friday, as the Raiders scored on the game’s third play from scrimmage when quarterback CJ Villanueva completed a pass to Kekama Kane that Kane turned into a 69-yard touchdown play. Shum’s extra point made it 7-0.

Shum then converted impressive field goals of 34 and 45 yards, the second one pushing the score to 13-0 on the final play of the first quarter.

But on the ensuing kickoff, Shum was injured while making a sideline tackle on the kickoff, and was helped off the field.

‘Iolani’s special teams came up with a big play soon after, however, as Taniela Taliauli blocked a punt and Kualau Manuel recovered the loose ball at the Crusaders’ 27-yard-line. On first down, Jones Vierra rambled 22 yards to the 5, setting up Villanueva’s scoring pass to Keon Preusser one play later. Marcos King tacked on the PAT to make it 20-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter.

Saint Louis then got on the board after a nine-play, 70-yard drive capped by Javen Joyce Ruiz’s 3-yard touchdown run. Keolu Markle-Kane’s extra point cut the deficit to 20-7 with 5:37 remaining before halftime.

Taliauli then answered by returning the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to paydirt, after first fumbling the ball backward toward his own goal line and then nimbly shedding and weaving through several incoming would-be tacklers. King’s PAT made it 27-7, but the Crusaders closed it to 27-14 as Leysen Rodrigues threw a 27-yard TD pass to Pryde-Zen Collins, who snatched the ball away from two defenders in making the spectacular catch as time expired at halftime.

After the Raiders forced a three-and-out to start the second half, Kane returned the punt 37 yards to the Saints’ 40, and Vierra scored on a 2-yard run five plays later to make it 33-14. A low snap resulted in a failed conversion, but Kumen Kurihara made an interception three plays into the next possession, setting up Villanueva’s 23-yard scoring pass to Jaeden Park. King made it 3-for-3 in PAT’s to push the score to 40-14 midway through the third quarter.

That lead held up until Marquez Mellor’s 3-yard touchdown run capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with 2:20 left in the third quarter, helping to close it to 40-21. The Crusaders then cut it to 40-28 with 2:35 remaining after a nine-play, 60-yard play scoring drive capped by Rodrigues’ 9-yard pass to Kamahao Bradley.

Saint Louis got the ball back for one final possession after forcing a punt, but Taliauli ended the game by intercepting a pass as time expired.

Rodrigues, a 5-foot-7 freshman, finished with 27 completions in 41 attempts for 303 yards and two TDs, with the two INT’s.

“This was typical Saint Louis — they’re talented, and they move the ball,” Look said.

Villanueva went 16 of 21 for 185 yards and three touchdowns, with one pick. But Look said ‘Iolani will need to step it up a notch against Kapolei, which improved to 4-1 after blowing out Castle, 54-3, Friday night.

“They’re looking good,” Look said of the Hurricanes. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Photos: Grant Shishido

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