Bishop Gorman’s defense a big test for Saint Louis’ offense

Ka’ohu Kamakawiwo’ole ran in untouched for a five-yard touchdown to give Saint Louis a 21-0 lead over Bishop Gorman midway through the second quarter of their matchup at Aloha Stadium in 2019. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

The weather report for Las Vegas read “smoky” on Wednesday.

The Saint Louis Crusaders saw clear skies in South Point, where they’re staying and preparing for Friday’s battle with three-time national champion Bishop Gorman. In fact, despite a warning of “Unhealthy Air Quality for Sensitive Groups” on Thursday, the team is 13 miles from the strip and hasn’t noticed anything unusual.

Temperatures are in the 80s near noon in Las Vegas and expected to dip into the mid-70s overnight, a far cry from the 110-plus temperatures of a month ago. On Friday, the high is expected to be 96. A sunny, dry 96, of course.

“It was good today. We feel good. Confident,” senior quarterback AJ Bianco said on Thursday night.

Coach Ron Lee has expressed curiosity, even a little anxiety about the mystery of this year’s Crusaders squad, but veteran lineman Jonah Savaiinaea is ready to go toe to toe with the 17-time Nevada state champions. The senior offensive lineman was on the field when Saint Louis knocked off Bishop Gorman, 31-19, at Aloha Stadium in 2019.

“I feel great as always. Legendary, to be exact,” Savaiinaea said.

That could be a reference to the late Matt Faga, who coached linemen across Oahu year-round. Faga’s motto was, “Why be great when you can be legendary?”

“I’m blessed for the opportunity to play in front of fans and with my brothers. We’re not only representing Saint Louis. We’re repping the whole state of Hawaii, as well,” Savaiinaea said.

Saint Louis worked out at Liberty High School in the evening. The public-school Liberty Patriots stunned Bishop Gorman for the Nevada state title in 2019 and boast a busload of elite talent in ’21. However, it is Bishop Gorman that continues to be the marquee program, at least in headlines and cyberspace. MaxPreps has the Gaels ranked No. 13 nationally.

Saint Louis is No. 30 and has not played an official game since the fall of ’19. Friday’s matchup will have an ingredient that is not allowed in Hawaii: spectators.

“It should be pretty good sized,” said Bianco, whose parents are among those who made the trip.

The game will be live streamed on the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) website with a subscription. The one-month charge is $10.99.

Bianco and his teammates have studied film of practice, past games, anything available in the months of preparation with and without full pads and helmets.

“They’re ranked in the Top 25 for a reason. They’ve got guys all over the place. I’m expecting high competition and a good game,” he said.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound slinger prefers a low profile, as do his coaches and teammates.

“We haven’t played in a couple of years. The seniors didn’t have their junior year, the juniors didn’t have their sophomore year. We’re obviously grateful that we’re even playing a game. We’re blessed to have this opportunity,” Bianco said.

The Bishop Gorman roster has highly-rated college prospects like no other team the Crusaders will play this season. The Gaels’ defensive backfield has four of the five top-rated players in Las Vegas Valley, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“They’re really good. A lot of talent, a lot of speed. They’re ranked high for a reason. They’re going to give us a good battle,” Bianco said.

Saint Louis’ offense has been through spring scrimmages, and with the graduation of seniors, another new challenge through late-July scrimmages.

“I feel really good. We’ve got a lot of depth at every position. I’m feeling in all our guys and we’re ready to showcase what we’ve got on Friday night,” Bianco said.

The offensive line has the most returning talent, as well as depth. La‘akea Kapoi, a commit to San Diego State, center Ethan Spencer (Hawaii) and Savaiinaea (Arizona) form the nucleus of a deep unit.

“Nothing has changed up front. We always bring that dominant attitude. We’re keeping that energy from spring season ’til now,” Savaiinaea said.

The arrival of Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu, a 6-3, 350-pound junior, adds to the formidable group. There will be other new names making plays for the Crusaders. Just don’t expect to hear about them before game time from the field general.

“If Coach Ron’s not saying nothing,” Bianco said, “I’m not saying nothing.”


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