Composure in clutch was Saint Louis’ ace in the hole

Saint Louis' Jayden de Laura scored on one of his two touchdown runs in a win over Punahou to give the Crusaders a fifth straight ILH crown. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

No. 1 Saint Louis was seven little points better than No. 2 Punahou on Friday night and so it was no joke when coach Cal Lee said afterward that the Crusaders are fortunate to be where they’re at.

Where they’re at is 36 victories in a row and in prime position to go for a fourth straight Open Division state championship. Had they not kept their composure when the going got super rough in the second half at Aloha Stadium, those streaks would be history.

Instead, Saint Louis pulled out a 21-14 victory for the ILH championship with so much to lose.

The Crusaders’ think tank worked extra hard in instructing the players in crunch time. Lee and his staff have been in these situations before — without crumbling — and they weren’t about to fall apart now, either.

After dominating the first half, Punahou battled back for a 14-all tie in the third quarter, making life intensely difficult.

And that’s where the Saint Louis boys absolutely thrived.

The first big play in the Crusaders’ sprint to the finish came on Punahou’s first possession after the Buffanblu tied it at 14. It was by defensive lineman Stanley McKenzie, who tipped a third-down pass by Buffanblu quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele.

Punahou punted. How would Saint Louis respond? Game on the line. It’s go time, right? The Crusaders could have faltered, but they didn’t.

The next gigantic effort came from wide receiver Matt Sykes, who took a Jayden de Laura pass for 31 yards, pushing the ball to the Buffanblu 12.

Then, as time ran out in the third quarter, de Laura went around left end for a 12-yard TD. That was the money play, the one that made the final difference, giving Saint Louis a 21-14 edge.

But there were 12 full minutes left.

The Saint Louis defense was desperate for another stop and so it came to pass. Anthony Sagapolutele, a defensive lineman, stuffed Punahou’s Nathaniel Kia for no gain on a fourth-and-1 from the Saint Louis 41.

That was another quite bright moment in the clutch for the boys from Kalaepohaku. It wasn’t the last.

Linebacker Sonny Masaniai then took center stage in the Crusaders’ hero contest with a sack to halt Punahou on its next drive after it had gotten as far as the Saint Louis 29.

That left 5:06 on the clock. De Laura confidently passed for two first downs, and then with 2:12 to go, the Saint Louis decision-makers had a dilemma. Go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Punahou 41? Or punt?

It was no easy choice. The Crusaders took two timeouts before finally deciding to run a play.

And what a play — a slant pattern to Sykes (like Joe Montana to John Taylor to win the Super Bowl in 1989) that Sykes busted for a 27-yard gain to the Punahou 14.

“I’m not gonna lie,” de Laura said. “I had butterflies on that one. We trusted Matt to put the ball in his hands and he pulled through. Big-time players make big-time plays.”

It was pretty much academic from there. The Crusaders could not get another first down and Punahou took over at its 17 with 8 seconds left. Too late for the Buffanblu.

And now it’s on to the state tournament for Saint Louis (10-0). The Crusaders play Mililani (8-4) in the Open semifinals Nov. 22.

“We play for one another, our family and our coaches,” Saint Louis’ McKenzie said. “Now, we’re going to make sure we win every practice … that’s how you’re going to win every game.”

Added de Laura: “We knew the game wasn’t over after the first half (14-0 lead). They came back and stopped us a couple of times. We told ourselves, you gotta relax and let the game flow. I was kind of worried. Punahou is a great team and you can’t take them lightly. They made some great second-half adjustments and they always play us great.”

Coach Lee was also worried.

“I was worried when I got here (to the stadium),” he said. “We were very fortunate to keep them to two scores. When (they took the momentum), we had to make sure that we make a stop and fortunately we were able to make stops (courtesy of McKenzie and Masaniai).”

As for the play call on that critical fourth down, Lee said, “I’m kind of lucky. I called it, but I figured this was our shot. I liked the play, the pass play. We had a chance and I thank the Lord for making it happen.”

Lee felt comfortable with the ball in de Laura’s hands.

“He can always do other things, can run it and all that (if Sykes wasn’t open),” he said. “These kids know what it takes to win a game. It’s four quarters and all that stuff. You can be up big and things don’t go right. Nonetheless, they hung in there and we’re fortunate to be where we’re at.”

Punahou was trying to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2014.

“It went down to the wire,” Buffanblu coach Kale Ane said. “That’s all we can ask. We had chances and were hurt by key penalties. Saint Louis is a great team. We had to be near perfect to beat them. I’m disappointed we didn’t cash in. But the boys played great. I’m proud of them. They found a way to keep the game going.”

Added Punahou running back Vincent Terrell, who helped steal the third-quarter momentum with long punt and kickoff returns, “It’s hard to see the clock hit zero and knowing you didn’t come out with the victory. We left it all out there. Saint Louis was the better team today. It just sucks.”

Lee has 24 of Saint Louis’ 41 ILH championships. The Crusaders are going for their seventh overall state championship and fifth under Lee. The school also has 14 Oahu Prep Bowl championships (prior to the start of the state tournament in 1999), all under Lee.


  1. @Hauula boy November 4, 2019 12:00 pm

    I did , a much smaller mililani team physically dominated a much bigger Kahuku team lol. which did not pass the mililani 40 yard line. As to where mililani missed two field goals and do i have to explain it again, mililani was in your 5 yard line twice. and inside the 20 4 times. So yes to answer your question i did watch the game. Kahuku had 60 yards of total offense in the fourth quater. Again yes i did watch the game. Clown.

  2. ILH November 4, 2019 12:12 pm

    With the way Mills and RRs offense is performing I dont think they got it this year.

    Look at the OIA champ game. Two stingy defenses and struggling offenses canceled each other out counting on the Steams to win the game for them.

    In order to beat Lulu, your offense has to posses the ball AND score. Lulu’s Steams are mediocre this year so you could win that 1/3 but I would think that they would have more of their starters on Steams in the state tournament. So that kind of negates that.

    As everyone says, well wait and see. Should be a great tournament.

    To RR-ville
    Why the reluctance in changing the offense to reflect the times? You can still have a power running game weaved in with an effective passing game. I understand sticking to the personnel you have but Cmon, Man. With all the connections from alumni that went to D1’s and the league, couldnt ya’ll go and spend time with someone/team to upgrade your offense??

    Or is this a by product of having multiple head coaches in a small space of time? No identity on offense that is.

  3. Hau’ulaBoy November 5, 2019 2:09 am

    101 to 101 yards of offense Mililani and Kahuku. So where is your dominant stats. Field position? Kahuku hurt themselves with two fumbles. And getting in that close and still not being able to punch it in? That doesn’t sound like domination. Scrub. Too funny. Short field and still can’t punch it in? Dominant? What ever. You win. Keyboard champ.

  4. ILH November 5, 2019 9:31 am

    Care to comment on the Offense there HBoy?

  5. MILLI VANILLI November 5, 2019 10:14 am

    Element of Surprise or just an illusion, Mils should?

    1. Try the back up QB, Sagapolutele kid, give the Saints a different look they not prepared for and no film to scout. What do you have to lose, you already gave RJ to Moanalua
    2. Try the tall Iosefa Kid as a tight end or Hoohuli, he can catch, fast, and athletic, ala Gronkowski
    3. Malosi Sam as a slot back ,strong power runner, would cause damage ala nishigaya, dual treat.
    4. Trick Plays, surprise the saints

    Just my 2 cents

  6. Coach Lou November 5, 2019 6:27 pm

    Mililani, the St.L kicker sucks. Plan and practice for kick off return. Pull a Kahuku ko on Then spy DE laura, all night. Put in a big blocking back for Sam.

  7. ILH November 6, 2019 10:32 am

    LOL. That means Lulu scoring a lot.
    Ideally, you just want to run one KOR during a game.

    Its the punt/punt return where you can turn the tide of the game.
    Work on several block/return schemes and multiple formations and fakes on punt.
    This will hopefully equate to great field position for offense and defense and a bonus if there is a big return or even a block.

    Funny, there is a Lou and a Coach Lou, different hats?

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