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‘Iolani holds off Damien for wild 63-56 victory

PHOTO GALLERY | Varsity Football | ʻIolani 63, Damien 56

By: Wes Nakama

Despite being outgained by 242 yards and allowing eight touchdowns, ‘Iolani overcame an early 28-7 deficit Friday afternoon and held off visiting Damien, 63-56, for a wild and crazy Homecoming victory at Eddie Hamada Field.

Sophomore quarterback CJ Villanueva completed 29 of 43 passes for 427 yards and seven TDs without an interception, and two-way standout Taniela Taliauli picked off a pass in the end zone with 11 seconds remaining to help the Raiders improve to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the ILH. The Monarchs, who racked up a whopping 713 yards, fell to 4-3 and 2-1.

“Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, nobody could stop anybody,” ‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said. “I give our guys credit, they found a way to win. It’s always fun (to play Damien), they’re going to bring it and we have developed that rivalry because of the divisional play. It’s healthy.”

Friday’s game certainly delivered on entertainment value, from beginning to finish.

The Monarchs jumped out to a stunning 21-0 lead even before the first quarter ended, after sophomore QB Alani Tuifua threw touchdown passes to Ian Sera, Nalu Chinen-Zablan and Dayton Savea from 19, 39 and 13 yards out, respectively. The Raiders finally got on the scoreboard two minutes into the second quarter, but only after Taliauli scooped up a blocked punt and ran it four yards to paydirt, with Marcos King’s extra point closing it to 21-7. 

But Damien answered immediately with a three-play, 61-yard drive capped by Tuifua’s 15-yard TD pass to Savea, with Samuel Kawakami tacking on the PAT to stretch the lead to 28-7. 

That’s when the ‘Iolani offense got untracked, with Villanueva connecting with Hyrum Horita on touchdown throws of 8 and 37 yards, the latter helping to draw the margin closer at 28-21 with three minutes left in the second quarter. But the Monarchs weren’t done, either, extending the lead to 35-21 after Tuifua’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Ho-Williams and Kawakami’s extra point 17 seconds before halftime.

“We were too anxious (on defense), we were over-running everything,” Look said. “We need to get better, if we wanted to compete.”

‘Iolani struck quickly after halftime, scoring just three plays after the kickoff when Jones Vierra ran it in from five yards out, and King’s PAT cut it to 35-28. Damien went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and the Raiders capitalized by covering 76 yards in eight plays, culminating in Villanueva’s 7-yard scoring pass to Kekama Kane with King converting the point-after TD, tying the score at 35-35. 

Villanueva and Kane later hooked up on a 19-yard touchdown pass, and King’s extra point stunningly put ‘Iolani ahead for the first time, at 42-35 with 2:48 still to go in the third quarter. 

“To me, we weren’t disciplined, we weren’t doing our assignments,” Damien coach Bones Tuitele said. “And the penalties actually killed us. It’s just the little things that are killing us at this point.” 

The Monarchs did respond with Tuifua’s 16-yard scoring pass to Savea with 48 seconds remaining in the third quarter, with Kawakami’s extra point tying it at 42-42.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Damien on the TD was assessed on the kickoff, leaving ‘Iolani with a short field, and the Raiders capitalized with an eight-play, 46-yard drive culminating in Villanueva’s 11-yard scoring pass to Horita, and King’s PAT pushed ‘Iolani ahead, 49-42 two minutes into the fourth quarter.

But the Monarchs later responded yet again, tying it at 49-49 after Sylas Alaimalo’s 47-yard scamper to paydirt with 5:33 still on the game clock.

The Raiders then took back the lead when Villanueva and Kane connected on a 31-yard pass play with 3:44 remaining, only to see Damien tie it again at 56-56 after the next play from scrimmage when Tuifua and Savea connected on a 62-yard scoring pass and Kawakami tacked on the extra point.

‘Iolani finally went ahead for good on Villanueva’s 51-yard touchdown pass to Kane with 2:11 left.

But Damien still would not go away, marching to the 9-yard line with first-and-goal with under 20 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Tuifua dropped back to pass, threw a laser over the middle but was picked off by Taliauli, who began to run but then took a knee in the end zone.

Tuifua finished 26 of 40 for 439 yards and seven TD’s, with the lone interception at the end. 

“(Tuifua) is a great player, and we didn’t know where he was going to throw to, because he has good (options),” said Taliauli, a senior who played in the secondary on defense and saw spot duty at receiver on offense Friday. “Anybody who doesn’t want to watch Damien vs. ‘Iolani … I don’t know why, because it’s always a great game like this.”


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