Crusaders’ defense could close the deal

Saint Louis' Dylan Toilolo (28) and Luke Kava (44) team up to bring down Waianae running back Rico Rosario during Open Division semifinal action at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships at Aloha Stadium. Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. HSA Photo by Jamm Aquino.
Saint Louis’ Dylan Toilolo (28) and Luke Kava (44) team up to bring down Waianae running back Rico Rosario during Open Division semifinal action at the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships at Aloha Stadium. Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. HSA Photo by Jamm Aquino.

Offense has taken Saint Louis quite far.

Defense by the gentlemen of Kalaepohaku could close the deal.

Clearly, and abundantly, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offensive unit have provided ample push toward that beautiful koa trophy waiting to be taken home by this year’s state football champion. But right now, getting out of the semifinal round of the all-new, old-school-tenacious Open Division of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships isn’t about aerial delights alone.

It takes sound defense. Consistent, physical, smart defense by a unit that has full trust from one man to the next. With a 42-7 win over Waianae on Friday night, the Crusaders stopped one of the state’s most relentless ground-and-pound attacks. Waianae had to play with some of its key offensive players — QB Jaren Ulu and RB Rico Rosario — dinged up from recent injuries. But the Seariders have depth at RB, and even with an offensive line that has wreaked havoc on most foes this season, there was no place to go.

Rosario, one of the state’s rare 1,000-yard rushers, finished with a hard-earned 67 yards on 19 carries. Saint Louis limited Waianae as a team to 66 rushing yards, prompting coach Cal Lee to give his defensive unit possibly its highest grade of the season: B+.

“Yeah, I’ve got to be a little happy,” said Lee, who is still healing from surgery two weeks ago to remove a kidney stone. “But we’re not there yet. We want the perfect game.”

The front seven, featuring linebackers Noa Purcell (six tackles), Isaac Slade-Matautia (four tackles, two sacks) and Dylan Toilolo (four tackles, one sack), put out virtually every potential fire. Waianae didn’t score until the final 10 minutes of the contest.

It was the kind of dominance only a fan of defense could relish. Waianae ballcarriers were wrapped up by boa constrictors from sideline to sideline. The Seariders averaged 1.7 yards per carry.

“Against Waianae, you have to play basic, fundamental football,” Lee said. “We did a nice job with gap control, playing within our assignment.”

The Crusaders have grown deeper up front personnel-wise since the return of Lee, his brother and offensive coordinator Ron Lee, and an experienced staff steeped in Crusader championship lore. They remain steady in the secondary, too. While the ‘backers interrupted Waianae’s blend of plays from the front and back side, safety Isaiah Tufaga had five tackles, second among the Crusaders.

It was, for Lee and his staff, beautiful, bone-crunching poetry. There’s nothing, however, quite like being in the center of it all.

“We were pretty close to executing the game plan,” said Toilolo, a senior. “The game plan was to stop the run. Linebackers stay within three yards so we could get to the run a lot quicker and not get caught up in that block.”

Waianae normally will bring massive pounders like Mililani Misipati (6-1, 325) pulling into the hole, but it never consistently materialized against Saint Louis. There were interruptions at times behind the line of scrimmage, and it was nearly impossible to get to the second level.

“We can always be better. I feel good,” Slade-Matautia said.

Purcell suffered a stinger to his shoulder during the second half.

“He’s an all-around player. Fills the gap, one of our faster guys, One play, he hunted down the running back in the backfield,” Slade-Matautia said.

It wasn’t a bad night for the Crusaders’ offense, of course. Ronson Young was on the receiving end of three TD passes from Tagovailoa on basically the same pass route out of the backfield, all in the first half. His reliable hands helped build the 42-0 halftime lead.

“We don’t really talk about (plays). God’s plan is God’s plan. If He decides to give me the opportunity to go score, I just worked hard all week and did what I could,” Young said. “Tua understands when he can go do deep and when to dump off and let us do our thing. It’s all game-planning and preparing.”

Tagovailoa, who has seen every bit of tweaked and fitted defenses set up to slow him down, had another of his signature plays. The 80-yard TD jaunt in the second quarter started out with a horde of Seariders at the line of scrimmage. Somehow, he eluded the pass rush, kept his feet moving through the pocket and found an opening between the hash marks. Waianae, like many smart defenses, wasn’t going to allow Tagovailoa to gobble up chunks of yardage at the sideline. Instead, Tagovailoa was prepared to stride through the middle of the field, surprising the Waianae secondary with his second-gear speed.

Tagovailoa’s night was done by the half, a 239-yard, four-TD effort. Basically flawless by air, 13-for-15, 162 yards, three TDs, with 67 net rushing yards on just four carries.

Lee watched the second semifinal game, Kahuku’s runaway win over Kapolei, and came away impressed. Top-ranked Kahuku, the defending state champion, is unbeaten against Hawaii teams in two seasons under Vavae Tata, who played for Lee at Saint Louis and is now, arguably, the premier defensive guru of this era in Hawaii high school football.

Lee, who led Saint Louis to a state title in 1999 and 14 Oahu Prep Bowl crowns from ’83 to ’98, has been waiting patiently for another opportunity. He returned with his staff to Kalaepohaku in ’14 and quickly rebuilt the program back into elite status. Kahuku overpowered Saint Louis in last year’s state title game, 39-14.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Lee said. “No question.”

COMMENTS

  1. ILH November 12, 2016 6:01 am

    Awesome win


  2. Just saying... November 12, 2016 6:48 am

    It’s on like Donkey Kong!


  3. Red Raider 4 Life November 12, 2016 7:09 am

    Good luck Saint Louis, game on baby.
    Go Big Red!!


  4. fan 1 November 12, 2016 7:29 am

    One word for the Waianaeʻs coaches, fans & players, learn how to coach discipline, if it was one of your players that got hurt, you wouldnʻt feel good about the opponents cheering fans against a dirty hit…. Sad, no class…. Hope you guys learned something about football last night, a pure beaten 42-7…


  5. dirty plays by waianae November 12, 2016 8:02 am

    Waianae was playing dirty once they realized they were gonna get blown out. The coaching staff has no discipline. The fans had no class. Good job representing west side.


  6. DOMEZ November 12, 2016 4:58 pm

    Everyone is good till they face the BIG RED, red Raiders going smother you and spit you on the ground


  7. Just saying... November 12, 2016 6:59 pm

    @Domez, Kahuku Nation still feeling the pain of getting crushed by BG on the big stage?


  8. Jason Keuma November 12, 2016 7:52 pm

    Just saying- a little, but not as bad as being beat by a Punahoe, only to have them loose to OIA 3.


  9. AiNoKea November 12, 2016 9:04 pm

    @ Just Saying wow where did that come from LOL that’s in the rear view mirror and they did good considering they were going up against the #1 team with the top recruited players from around the country. Kahuku is in the title game and I’m sorry to say there’s no Hawaii team that will stop them this year!!!


  10. oia#1 November 12, 2016 9:30 pm

    Not all waianae fans like that, and not all players play like that. But i agree i feel uncomfortable with some of the fans antics. As for the players that falls squarely on the coaches, its been going on the whole season. Maybe because coaches have favorites. Thats why they cant play as one, theres teams within the team. IMUA WAIANAE


  11. Chloropicrin November 12, 2016 9:35 pm

    Yeah the Waianae’s Bravo and Lose Money teams…AD Kaluhiookalani needs to have everyone of the offensive assistants reapply, there’s too much useless coaches on Waianae’s sidelines.


  12. Red Raider in Seattle November 12, 2016 10:57 pm

    Red Raider 4 Life November 12, 2016 at 7:09 am
    Good luck Saint Louis, game on baby.
    Go Big Red!!

    I applaud you Red Raider 4 Life, you are one of the few people who demonstrate class from our community on here.


  13. Just saying... November 13, 2016 3:11 pm

    @Ainokea, no more excuses for losing big to BG. Skilled players with a great defensive scheme overcame brute strength. STL played BG back in ’12 and only loss by 12 with a shoot out which is respectable. (52-40)


  14. 88 November 13, 2016 3:26 pm

    Since when did allowing an opponent to drop 52 points on you become respectable? You play the game to win. St.Louis was getting molested 42-7 in the 3rd quarter dude. You make like they were trading TDs or something. This game wasn’t even close. Gorman played a St.Louis team that couldn’t win the ILH. It’s a good thing they didn’t because they would of suffered the same fate Punahou suffered that year. A 42-20 respectable @$$ whooping courtesy of BigRed. You killing me with your dumb example.


  15. TooMeke November 13, 2016 8:45 pm

    @88. Leave da bruddah alone. He talking about ancient history (losses no less) cuz he no like state the obvious.

    It won’t even be close. Again.

    You don’t win if you can’t score. And as I’ve said all season St LuLu’s O-line leaves much to be desired. They’re worse than last year. They’re just lucky they have a great QB and have faced inferior defenses.

    That ends this week.

    Goooooooood night.

    RRFL.


  16. AiNoKea November 13, 2016 10:02 pm

    @ Just Saying did you even watch that 2012 St Louis & BG game? BG took out their starters after the game was out of reach then St Louis started scoring. Just a reminder that St Louis didn’t make it to the title game that year but Kahuku did oh and they won!!


  17. Just saying... November 14, 2016 2:26 pm

    @88 the point I was making is that STL scored 40 points to come back late against BG (regardless of subs) and Kahuku could only score 1 TD and bored the fans to death with the same running plays over and over. Even Kahuku nation fans complained about the lack of a passing game when BG obviously stopped the run. When you have great talent (Heisman Winner), coaching and resources football titles follow (17 for STL) since ’73. If Kahuku prevails again, good for you. It’s only a game bruddah and and no one will even remember or care what happened 10 years from now and only how successful or not the individual has become in life. It’s what you do after high school that counts.


  18. 88 November 14, 2016 2:48 pm

    And the point I’m making is that other than losing you can’t compare the two games. The 2012 Gorman team and the 2016 Gorman team are two totally different squads. You honestly think that the 2012 St.Louis team who couldnt win their division would of scored a single point against the 2016 Gorman squad? Brothah I was in Vegas for the game and there was not one bored Hawaii football fan the ENTIRE week. And your great talent who won the Heisman wasn’t even an option untill his senior year. Not being recognized by his coaches is what probably motivated that kid to go above and beyond and prove to everyone at St.Louis that they chose to start the wrong QB over him


  19. Jay Gatoloai November 22, 2016 7:06 pm

    lol @ 88..u a clown


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