Army brings back flag football trophy to Schofield

Army vs. Navy game winner 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Pahu Imua share a photo with USS John Paul Jones.

Story and photos by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

The 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (303 MEB), an Army reserve unit from Schofield Barracks, did it again by winning the fourth annual Army vs. Navy Classic flag football showdown over Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Afloat Division champions USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), 30-13, on Dec. 8 at Earhart Field, JBPHH.

Playing under the brigade’s motto, Pahu Imua (push forward), the 303 MEB, intramural flag football champs at Schofield Barracks for the third year in a row, have now won the classic two out of past three years and will hold onto the trophy between the two bases for the consecutive second season.

“It’s our experience and chemistry together,” said Pahu Imua quarterback Spc. Ezekiel Falaniko, whose imitation of Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson kept the team’s offense going strong. “It’s one big family that we have. So we just go off of each other and if someone’s doing bad, we know how to help out each other and get the job done.”

Sgt. Eleu Wilson makes a leaping grab inside the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

The close bond of Pahu Imua showed up early as the team had to withstand a hot start by John Paul Jones.

After Pahu Imua lost the ball on downs at the three-yard line in the red zone on the first drive of the game, the team got the ball back only to have it picked off by John Paul Jones defender Lt. j.g. Paul Winston.

Failing to get a first down on their first possession, John Paul Jones heated up quickly, as quarterback Operations Specialist 2nd Class Enrico Poole connected on a pass for an eight-yard pickup, before going long to Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Kalvin Popkes for a catch-and-run that placed the ball on the Pahu Imua three-yard line.

Two plays later, Poole kept the ball and swept down the right sideline and into the end zone to take the first lead of the game at 7-0 after the converted point after touch-down (PAT).

Playing from behind, Falaniko immediately gathered the troops and marched the team 65-yard on 10 plays to score its first touchdown of the game on a short pass from Falaniko to Sgt. Eleu Wilson.

Pahu Imua then took the lead on a two-point conversion that made it 8-7.

Still hot from their first score, John Paul Jones offense went back on the attack and picked right up from where they left off.

At the two-minute warning and the ball resting on the 35, Poole found Winston crossing from left to right and hit him in the numbers with a bullet.

Winston immediately turned upfield and found daylight all the way to the end zone for a touchdown that gave John Paul Jones a 13-8 lead.

However, just before halftime, Falaniko used only two plays to get the ball to midfield and then on the next play, the QB went over the top with toss down the left sideline and into the arms of Sgt. Daryl Westbrook. He beat his man and took it all the way to the house, as Pahu Imua went into halftime with a 16-13 advantage.

In the second half, it was all Pahu Imua as the team’s defense, led by defensive back Sgt. Donovan Johnson with two interceptions, stepped up to shut down the John Paul Jones offense.

“We stayed true to who we are,” Johnson said about the dominant second half played by the defense. “We definitely trust and love each other. The fact that we know each other that well, we know that we can just come in here and do what we do. Don’t rattle under pressure and it seems to work out each year.”

With the defense running on all cylinders, Falaniko went to work on offense by connecting with Wilson for another touchdown and then a game-ending bomb to Sgt. Setu Lepou.

While Falaniko was still throwing bombs in the final seconds of the game, the Army QB said it was no disrespect to the Navy, but they did come to Hickam to make a statement.

“It was a statement for us because we’ve been here two years and lost the first one, so this year was kind of like a tie-breaker for us,” Falaniko said. “But it was more of us just having fun. It was no disrespect to Navy. It was us just having fun.”

As the trophy travels back to Schofield Barracks for one more year, Falaniko said that he is definitely thinking about a three-peat in 2018.

“We’re looking like a good two more years,” he said. “We’ll just take it a year at a time and see who’s in or not in the military. We’ll see how it goes.”

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Category: Sports