Champion Volcanoes finish off Pearl City Paniolos

Story and photo by Randy Dela Cruz

Sports Editor, Ho‘okele

In a game that had all of the makings of an Army versus Navy clash, the Honolulu Volcanoes topped off a miraculous season by beating the Pearl City Paniolos, 19-8, to capture the 2015 Hawaii Gridiron League tackle football championship on July 12 at St. Louis High School in Honolulu.

Both teams are stocked with numerous active-duty military members with many of the players on the Paniolos, such as Ensign Nick Morahan, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Isaac Atkins, Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Jarae Thurmond and Chief Master-at-Arms James Jones, serving commands at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Meanwhile, the Volcanoes have a lineup that is stocked full of active-duty Army personnel with players such as Spc. Kirk Balter and Spc. Chris Mc-Cutchin playing big roles for the squad.

While both teams got off to solid starts in the championship showdown, it was the Volcanoes who came up with enough big plays to walk off with the title trophy.

The Volcanoes received the opening kickoff and behind the workhorse-like effort of running back Apelu Sooalo, managed to punch the ball over the goal line from 62 yards out on eight plays to take a 7-0 lead after the touchdown and extra point.

Honolulu Volcanoes running back Apelu Sooalu bursts between two defenders to score the first touchdown of the game.

Honolulu Volcanoes running back Apelu Sooalu bursts between two defenders to score the first touchdown of the game.

Not to be undone by the Volcanoes, the Paniolos unleashed a potent ground game of their own with Jones getting the bulk of the work.

Jones carried the ball four times and picked up 17 yards in helping the Paniolos penetrate the Volcanoes red zone down to the nine yards.

From there, Maurice Melton finished off the drive with a plunge into the end zone for six points before the team added a two-point conversion to take an 8-7 advantage, which stood up through halftime.

In the second half, the Volcanoes tightened up their defense and really began to put the squeeze on the Paniolos.

After a quick four-andout by the Paniolos, the Volcanoes got the ball back at their own 38-yard line.

Following the team’s success on the ground on their first drive of the game, Iu decided to take the ball over the top and take advantage of the Paniolos defense, which was now packing the box to stop the run.

A pass to Daniel Fidow set down the ball on the Paniolos 38 and, after Sooalo was stopped for no gain, Iu found Balter all alone down the right side line for a touchdown and a 13-8 lead.

“That really helped us a lot,” Iu said about starting off with an effective ground game. “Coming into the game, we knew that we needed to run the ball. You know that running the ball makes everything easy on offense.”

Finally, with the game still in reach for the Paniolos, the Volcanoes pulled out a trick play that may have broken the Paniolos’ will and back.

With time winding down and the ball resting at the Paniolos 36, Iu threw a quick outlet to the sideline to Fidow, who turned up field and hoisted a bomb into the arms of a wide open Spc. Chris McCutchin, who made the grab and streaked past the defense for the game winner.

“It’s funny because me and Daniel coach in a junior prep football league,” Iu said. “We run that play and it always works in our league. I figured, this is the championship game, lets go out with a bang, and it worked.”

Jones said that the Paniolos were feeling pretty good after finishing off their first drive with a score, but as the game wore on, the team just couldn’t adjust fast enough.

“I think bringing the pressure is what kind of changed the dynamics of the game,” Jones admitted. “They (Volcanoes) brought it and did what they were supposed to do.”

For league owner and head coach of the Volcanoes Darrick Branch, winning the championship might have been the sweetest victory in a storied career that started with the University of Hawaii in 1992.

Branch said that this year’s Volcanoes lost their first four games of the season before turning things around.

However, more than adding another title to his resume, Branch said his post-football role as community bridge builder far exceeds anything that he has done on the field.

“We always talk about the magic of sports,” he stated. “No matter what’s going on, no matter if communities haven’t gotten along in the past, you put on these shoulder pads and play between these lines and all of that is gone. It’s about respect for each other. That’s what it’s all about. We want to build these relationships with the communities.”

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Category: Sports