CLOSING THE BOOK: 2019 Saint Louis Crusaders

Saint Louis celebrated winning its fourth consecutive state championship in 2019. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

2019 TEAM RECORD
>> 12-1 overall, 8-0 ILH Open Division

HEAD COACH
>> Cal Lee is 296-41-5 in 27 seasons total in charge of the Crusaders.

KEY UNDERCLASSMEN IN 2019
>> LB Mason Tufaga, 6-1, 181, Jr.; OL Kalan Ellis, 6-5, 290, Jr.; DL Anthony Sagapolutele, 6-0, 235, Jr.; QB AJ Bianco, 6-3, 180, So.


SAINT LOUIS THROUGH THE YEARS: 1973-2019

HISTORICAL EQUIVALENT: 1970 McKinley

Whether the 2019 Saint Louis Crusaders gave up their claim as the best Hawaii high school football team ever with a tough bowl loss to St. Thomas Aquinas is debatable, but what is not debatable is that the Crusaders are in the conversation given what might have been the toughest schedule ever and presumably the last OIA-ILH alliance for a long time.

Saint Louis decimated every OIA team on its way to the state title, only getting true rubs from ILH rival Punahou.

The Crusaders had a point differential of 22.4, its lowest in three years and making it comparable — if any team can compare — to fellow one-loss 1970 McKinley. Saint Louis is not even close to the top 25 of teams in point differential, thanks to Punahou and its late loss to St. Thomas Aquinas. Lee’s 1998-2000 squads hold the top three spots in that list.

But the best-ever chops remain. Saint Louis won 12 games for the first time since way back in 2000 when it played 15 games. 

The defense more than led that charge behind Nick Herbig and Jordan Botelho, allowing only 14.4 points per game. That is the fewest for the program since Delbert Tengan held opponents to 12.5 back in 2007 and creeping closer to the standard set by Lee before he retired the first time in 2001. Lee put the mark at 10.3 that year, and Tengan and Darnell Arceneaux kept it there until John Hao took over in 2008.

The offense paled in comparison to the defense, but was still the best in the land. Ron Lee‘s crew generated 36.8 points per game, the fewest for a Crusaders offense since Matt Wright was coach in 2012 and the lowest for a Lee-coached Crusaders group since 1996.  


The offense excelled under the guidance of quarterback Jayden de Laura, who put together the best statistical season for the school since Timmy Chang‘s days and became the first Saint Louis signal-caller to win successive state championships. De Laura finished with 3,725 yards and 31 touchdowns on an unheard of 366 passing attempts. He had 1,000 yards more in his senior season than his junior season, thanks to 153 more passing attempts, and he threw for more than 30 touchdowns to become the first Crusader to do so since Tua Tagovailoa had 33 in 2014. 

De Laura left his name all over the state record book, becoming just the 17th quarterback on Oahu to exceed 6,000 career passing yards and fourth in school history behind Tagovailoa, Chang and Bobby George. The bulk of those numbers are thanks to his stellar senior season in which only four others (Chang, Taulia Tagovailoa, PJ Minaya and Dillon Gabriel) covered more ground. But they did it with considerably more attempts, each of them over 400 and Tagovailoa exceeding 500, or 160 more than de Laura. The senior had many signature games, but none better than the first meeting against Punahou when he became the sixth Saint Louis quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in a game, tallying 402 with two touchdowns and misfiring on only six of 40 passes. He had 23 of his 31 touchdowns against OIA competition, including an incredible five scores on only 18 throws against Mililani.

Beginning with the Punahou game, de Laura exceeded 300 yards in five straight games. That is the school record, as Cordeiro, Tagovailoa, Jeremy Higgins and Chang only managed to do it in three straight games in their illustrious careers. Junior Connor Apo picked up his second state title as a backup, moving into position to earn one more than de Laura. Apo hit on 65 percent of his 86 passes in his short career, covering 431 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Saint Louis put the entire offense on de Laura’s shoulders, dialing up passes 57 percent of the time after doing so just 45 percent of the time in his junior season. He led the team in rushing with 372 yards on 95 carries including sacks, the fifth time in the last six years the quarterback was the team’s leading rusher with the lone outlier being Malosi Sam last year. De Laura ran in nine touchdowns but his rushing yards were the fewest for the team leader since Lee’s return. Ka’ohu Kamakawiwo’ole was the top pure running back, earning 278 yards on 60 carries and Koali Nishigaya was more than effective in the spot with 154 yards and seven touchdowns. Mason Taliulu and Kainalu Tumpap each added three rushing scores. De Laura had the biggest game on the ground for the Crusaders, surprising Kahuku for 75 yards and two scores on six carries in the state championship victory. It was the first time since the undefeated 1987 season that Saint Louis failed to have a player break the century mark in rushing in at least one game — Tupu Alualu topped out that season with 83 against Punahou.

With the ball in the air so much, Saint Louis was destined to have big receiving numbers and it did. Roman Wilson led for the second year in a row and finished with 1,070 yards on 64 catches with 12 touchdowns. Nishigaya joined him with 1,020 yards of his own to give the program its first teammates with more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season since all-time great Gerald Welch and Isaac Rodrigues in 1999. Wilson finished just short of 2k in his career with 1,948 and Nishigaya was just as close with 1,929, leaving Welch to remain the only Crusader in the club.

Nishigaya did do one thing Welch never approached, torching Mililani for 263 yards on just five catches with three touchdowns to settle in at third on the school’s single-game list behind only Desmond Hanohano and Mitchell Quinn. Welch’s biggest game was 203 yards against Pac-Five in 1999. Nishigaya and Wilson each went over the century mark three times this season, with Wilson giving Punahou particular trouble with 337 yards in two contests.

Third receiver Matt Sykes was also a thorn in Punahou’s side with 238 yards in those two games, and matched his brothers with three games over the century mark to give the triplets the honor of saying they were the first trio in school history to do that that many times in a single season. Sykes finished his senior season with 769 yards on 41 catches to close out his prep days just short of 1,000 yards with 964 and nine touchdowns. As if those riches weren’t enough, Isaac Silva hauled in 57 passes for 602 yards and a touchdown, numbers that would have led the team in all three of Tua Tagovailoa‘s years as the starting quarterback. Makena Ramos-Kamaka and Trech Kekahuna also exceeded 100 yards for the Crusdaders, who had 14 different players catch at least one pass in a season marked by blowouts.

The Lees lose nearly an entire future Hawaii Grown all-star team to graduation, but seem set at quarterback with Apo and sophomore AJ Bianco and freshman Kekahi Graham getting another year of maturation. Mason Tufaga will return to help lead the defense, which will have a much different look next year. The offense will also be filled with different names as this is the biggest turnover Cal Lee will have faced since returning to coach.


Saint Louis slotback Koali Nishigaya (23) touched the ball more than 100 times this season on offense. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

2019 TEAM STATS

PASSINGGC-A-IYdsTD
Jayden de Laura13255-366-113,72531
Connor Apo922-35-21620
AJ Bianco37-14-11241
Kekahi Graham23-5-0320
RUSHINGGAttYdsTD
Jayden de Laura13953729
Kaohu Kamakawiwo'ole13602784
Mason Taliulu11482433
Koali Nishigaya13221547
Kainalu Tumpap5231243
Jason Cruz717812
Maile Fa617480
AJ Bianco3570
Isaac Silva13140
Justin Tsai4730
Kekahi Graham2630
TEAM133-30
Connor Apo914-120
RECEIVINGGRecYdsTD
Roman Wilson13641,07012
Koali Nishigaya13791,0209
Matt Sykes13417697
Isaac Silva13576021
Makena Ramos-Kamaka691832
Trech Kekahuna581450
Devon Tauaefa48830
Jacob LeLesch45480
Prince Solomon68451
Keanu Wallace23260
Po'okela Louis22130
Kawena Abrigo11120
Ezra Rodrigues1180
Kaulana Kau1110
Saint Louis receiver Roman Wilson hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter against Bishop Gorman. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis receiver Matthew Sykes (18) hauled in a pass ahead of Farrington defensive back Tanumafili Fotu (31) during the first half of a game this season. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Punahou receiver Moku Dancil-Evans (6) was hit by Saint Louis linebacker Mason Tufaga (10), top, and defensive back Bronz Moore (20) after making a catch in the second half. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis defensive back Brian Cox raised his arms to celebrate as safety Kamo’i Latu (15) came up with an interception against Campbell. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis linebacker Nick Herbig (19) recorded one of the Crusaders’ nine sacks against Kahuku. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) ran the ball behind the block of wide receiver Roman Wilson (14) during the first half against Kahuku. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis wide receiver Matthew Sykes (18) put a stiff arm on Bishop Gorman strong safety Zion Branch. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
Saint Louis receiver Koali Nishigaya (23) celebrated after a touchdown against Mililani. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

COMMENTS

  1. ??? January 4, 2020 9:51 pm

    Good season.


  2. ILoveHawaii January 6, 2020 10:59 am

    Question: Do you jump into this picture if you are one of the bench warmers? There are a lot of em on that team……….


  3. FLORIDA FTBALL January 10, 2020 3:52 pm

    Great season. Much respect… St. Louis are too good for Hawaii competition. They’re a lot better than many ppls thought they was including myself. Good job guy. I live in Florida and St. Louis hung in there with a top 10 Florida team for almost 3Quarters. And I feel if they get more stronger, more conditioned and commit to a more physical run game added to how good they can pass. I feel they will have a better chance at upsetting a team like St. Thomas Aquinas. And St. Thomas was over rated this year.


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