As ancient as the wheel, seemingly, the draw play still delivers a gut punch to the most dangerous and powerful defense.
Saint Louis was in a quandary on Saturday afternoon as Punahou brought a mix of blitz packages, bringing quarterback AJ Bianco down four times before intermission. Calling the draw didn’t end Punahou’s sack-cessful afternoon, but it created a 38-yard touchdown run by Trech Kekahuna and a 49-yard jaunt by Jaysen Peters-de Laura as Saint Louis went ahead 28-17 by halftime.
The top-ranked Crusaders finished with 26 rush attempts (for 265 yards) and 26 pass attempts in a 41-23 win over the Buffanblu. The win is their 36th in a row against Hawaii competition, a streak that goes back to 2016, when the Crusaders lost to Punahou.
Not only did Saint Louis play a game for the first time since Aug. 20, it showed that a one-two combo of passing and running still matter.
“Our draw was working. They were bringing their front, so we sell the pass,” right guard Jonah Savaiinaea said. “That middle linebacker (Kielan Siamani) always backs up and the running back goes straight up the middle.”
Saint Louis had other interesting counters and wrinkles. Occasionally, the offense switched from the usual four- and five-wide sets and lined up in an ace formation — single back, double tight ends, wide receiver at the wing — in short-yardage situations.
“The elephant, that works. We went over that in practice a lot. We’re pounding the ball. That’s what I like,” said Savaiinaea (6-4, 345), who lines up next to right tackle La‘akea Kapoi (6-4, 295) and center Ethan Spencer (6-2, 275).
Dacoda Brown (6-2, 295) lined up at left tackle, while Iapani Laloulu (6-2, 358) and Jaydee Kahawai (6-3, 356) were at left guard.
That kind of size and talent is partly why Punahou brought its variety of blitzes, and they often worked. But every time, Saint Louis found a way to counter. The draw runs. Bianco dialing back on the deep throws in favor of intermediate and short routes. His accuracy, velocity and finesse as a passer were on full display against a defensive unit that has been one of the best statewide for years.
“The sacks are on me,” said Bianco, who took five of the six takedowns. “Just holding on to the ball too long, not being decisive enough.”
After Punahou’s fourth sack in the first half, Bianco began to high-tail it, running for 6 and 41 yards between the hashmarks. The 6-4, 220-pound senior finished with 36 rushing yards on nine carries to go with 272 passing yards (24-for-34) and three touchdown tosses.
“Just taking what the defense gives me. I see these guys every day at practice. I know what they’re capable of. They came out today and performed,” Bianco said. “We had a good game plan going into this week and we made mistakes, but it’s a pretty good start.”
Another counter move — Saint Louis called a number of shovel passes — or forward pitches — including a nine-yard touchdown from Bianco to Keola Apduhan, who spiked the football in the end zone. That drew a 15-yard penalty applied on the ensuing kickoff.
There have been seasons when Saint Louis has a higher percentage of runs than passes en route to a state title. The 50-50 split on a sunny, sometimes breezy afternoon on the synthetic turf at Alexander Field wasn’t entirely by design.
“That’s just kind of how the game flows,” Crusaders coach Ron Lee said. “You’re not trying to go 50-50. The thing was, we haven’t played for four weeks, so we’re still a little rusty, the quarterbacks and timing and stuff. We’ll get better.”
Nine different receivers caught spirals from Bianco and backup ‘Oa Kamakawiwo‘ole.
“I need to look at the film,” Lee said.”We’ve got to tighten it up, get a little better on pre-snap reads. AJ is accurate and can get the ball deep. Punahou mixed up their coverage. They rushed. They dropped. I thought they did a nice job with all the young guys they have. They didn’t give up and they were knocking on the door a lot.”
See the game story in Sunday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
At Alexander Field
Saint Louis (1-1, 1-0) 14 14 7 6 — 41
Punahou (1-1, 1-1) 7 10 0 6 — 23
STL—Devon Tauaefa 28 pass from AJ Bianco (Lason Napuunoa kick)
STL—Trech Kekahuna 38 run (Napuunoa kick)
Pun—Noah Macapulay 39 pass from John-Keawe Sagapolutele (Jordan Kapisi kick)
STL—Jaysen Peters-de Laura 49 run (Napuunoa kick)
Pun—Astin Hange 90 kick return (Kapisi kick)
STL—Yosei Takahashi 11 pass from Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
Pun—Kapisi FG 41
STL—Keola Apduhan 9 pass from Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
Pun—Tevarua Tafiti 50 fumble return (run failed)
STL—Chyler DeSilva 9 pass from ‘Oa Kamakawiwo‘ole (kick failed)
Rushing—Saint Louis: Bianco 9-36, Apduhan 14-87, Trech Kekahuna 5-85, Jaysen Peters-de Laura 2-55, Kamakawiwo‘ole 2-(-6), William Lentz 1-3, Elijah Dolor 2-10, Vu Nguyen 1-(-5). Punahou: Sagapolutele 10-(-19), Ean Kamau-Waikiki 1-(-3), Ala‘i Williams 1-2, Noah Macapulay 1-5.
Passing—Saint Louis: Bianco 24-34-1-273, Kamakawiwo‘ole 1-2-0-9. Punahou: Sagapolutele 19-36-1-213, David Dikeman 1-1-0-14.
Receiving—Saint Louis: Kekahuna 9-99, Mason Muaau 1-14, Devon Tauaefa 3-58, Apduhan 3-17, Peters-de Laura 4-38, Titan Lacaden 1-9, Takahashi 1-11, DeSilva 2-25, William Reed 1-11. Punahou: Astin Hange 5-50, Kamau-Waikiki 3-42, Peyton Macapulay 2-32, Williams 2-6, N. Macapulay 6-85, Donte Utu 2-12.