It was an odd moment, and it is one you can bet will be remembered for a long time by the Saint Louis coaching staff.
The Crusaders were in a 28-28 ballgame with top-ranked Punahou in the ILH playoffs last Friday and they had the momentum. The Buffanblu were about to punt the ball away on a fourth-and-two situation, and Saint Louis’ punt-return team stepped on the field.
It took a while for Punahou to snap the ball and it turned out no snap was needed. Just when you thought the snap might come, one of the officials threw a yellow penalty flag high into the air.
“Oh my God, we just beat ourselves,” an incredulous Saint Louis assistant said on the sideline, not once, but twice.
There was some confusion, but a quick count of Crusaders on the field did not stop at 11. It was 12. A big mistake. First down, Punahou.
On the next play, the Buffanblu’s Kanawai Noa was in the end zone with a 52-yard TD reception on a pass from Ephraim Tuliloa, and that turned out to be the difference on the scoreboard in the Buffanblu’s 35-28 win.
“That was my fault,” said coach Cal Lee, the winningest coach in Hawaii high school football history, about the play that virtually ended his first season back after a long layoff.
“But we can be proud of the way our players played all season.”
The Crusaders (6-4) struggled on the defensive side of the ball for much of the season, but played tough in the finale.
And that should serve as a warning to other teams around the state for the next two years. Highly skilled quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be a junior next year, and Lee, a defensive-minded coach to begin with, will surely be working on shoring up the defense.
The Crusaders almost pulled off a major upset of Punahou, and Buffanblu coach Kale Ane was quick to point out that their effort in the postseason game was not a fluke.
“Saint Louis played awesome,” Ane said. “They’ve improved so much (since a 42-7 loss to Punahou earlier in the year).
“Our guys stepped up in crunch time.”
One of those guys was Noa, one of the all-time leading receivers in Hawaii high school history.
“He’s our go-to, money guy,” Ane said. “He’s a clutch kid who makes plays.”
Noa credited the defensive effort after his TD catch.
“It wasn’t over yet, and the defense held them off with some great plays. It was a super emotional, rough game.”
Noa was right about the defense finishing off the win. With 3:08 to go, the Crusaders faced a fourth-and-53.
Later, the Crusaders made one more play that epitomized both their huge effort and their ultimate defeat. With 2:15 left, Noa and Crusaders defensive back Keone Paneku went up for a Tuliloa pass and both players appeared to have caught the ball. They hit the turf and stayed on the ground in the same position for what seemed like 10 seconds while the referees came over to investigate. They ruled that Noa made the catch, but it was not without a major fight. Like the game itself, the Crusaders did not go down easy.
Ane wanted to enjoy the win Friday night before thinking too far ahead, but he did talk a bit about the upcoming state tournament.
“We’re looking forward to playing that great competition,” he said.