The top-ranked Saint Louis Crusaders are nearly impeccable.
Offense. Defense. Special teams. Offseason reps. Video. It was more of the same quest for perfection in a first-time meeting with Campbell on Friday night. Saint Louis left with a 55-7 runaway, a game that was in running-clock, mercy-rule mode for the entire second half.
“We focused on taking their run game. In film study, they did the same run blocking, downfield blocking, as Waianae,” said linebacker Lawai Brown, who had the first of Saint Louis’ four first-half sacks. “We took away their strength.”
Just about every game is a road trip for the Crusaders, who were often dominant in the trenches, and altogether cohesive and focused as one unit. Defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele racked up two sacks on the same Campbell possession, and fellow trenchman Gino Quinones posted a sack of his own.
“We just did our jobs and that’s all we can ask. Just do your best,” said linebacker Jordan Botelho, who hustled for a fumble in the end zone, scoring a touchdown. “We all work hard. It starts at practice and we listen to our coaches.”
Botelho also hustled to force a fumble by Campbell QB Kaniala Kalaola that was recovered by Kamo‘i Latu.
Brown and his cohorts limited the Sabers to 23 rushing yards on 28 attempts, taking some of the fizz out of an otherwise spirited homecoming crowd. Saint Louis improved to 6-0 (5-0 ILH Open). Campbell (4-3, 1-1 OIA Open) entered the game ranked No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser Football Top 10, using a balanced offense and sticky defense.
But linebacker Tyrese Tafai is done for the year with a shoulder injury. The Sabers’ defense managed to record two sacks — 1 1/2 by Brandon Frysinger and a half-takedown by Pookela Piilani — but generally couldn’t disrupt the rhythm of Crusaders gunslinger Jayden de Laura. Returning from an injury, the junior was sacked just once, rushing for 62 yards on seven attempts. Oh, and he passed for 243 yards on 13-for-17 work with two TDs. In one half.
Saint Louis did just about anything it wanted, not because of Campbell, but mostly because of its fine-tuned machinery. It doesn’t help any opposing defense that tall Matthew Sykes is back from injury. de Laura hoisted a 64-yard bomb to Sykes to set up a 5-yard TD run by Robbie Paikai.
The sheer numbers — 476 yards in total offense by Saint Louis and 64 by Campbell — were stunning.
“We wanted better results. We’re going to work until we get it,” Sabers coach Darren Johnson said. “If you want to be elite, you have to compete with the elite. Straight assignment execution. They did exactly what we thought they’d do, then we went to fumbling the ball. We didn’t make plays. We helped the other team score.”
For all of the yardage disparity, the hidden yardage came with three defensive TDs by the visitors: Botelho’s fumble recovery began as Campbell’s ball at its 20-yard line; Kila Kamakawiwo‘ole’s 25-yard interception return; and Junior Wily’s 29-yard pick-six.
For a maturing Campbell program, the road from contender to champion has its bumps. Big speed bumps. The Sabers opened the year with lopsided wins over Hilo, Farrington and, on the road, O’Connor (Ariz.). Then came a 26-22 thriller over Kamehameha. Since then, three defeats at the hands of Top 5 teams: Mililani (52-14), Punahou (43-14) and Saint Louis.
Up next is a home game against Kahuku. The losses to Punahou and Saint Louis don’t count in the OIA standings, but the effect is just the same. Growing pains are still growing pains.
“It’s mental. They need to soul search for these next two days,” Johnson said. “Because it’s not going to get easier.”