It’s hard to beat the gurus.
That’s basically the scenario every time a team takes on Saint Louis and its brothers in arms, coaches Cal and Ron Lee. Sure, the Crusaders will be deeper next year defensively with an influx of new players, and the offense will still be potent with the return of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
But it’s the evolution of the offense in the return of the Lees that piques interest. What was and still is generally a four-wide, pass-oriented offense is also capable of ground-and-pound success. In a 55-20 win over ‘Iolani on Saturday, the Crusaders rushed 37 times for 218 yards (and three TDs) in a well-crafted we’ll-take-what-you-give-us approach.
Tagovailoa and Ryder Kuhns (10-for-10!) combined for a masterful 25-of-26 passing for 445 yards and five TDs. Thirty-seven rushing attempts. Twenty-six passes. And on most of those running plays, Tagovailoa offered the threat of a run, whether it was a read option or not, well, he and Ron Lee would know.
• Freddy Pancake. Fred Ulu-Perry was a force of nature again, trying to execute proper blocking technique while sufficiently bludgeoning opposing linemen. When I get a chance to review the game video just watching him, I’ll cut that into a montage. He was monstrous on one play, pulverizing a Raider lineman to the ground with full “frontal force out” power. He’s the top O-lineman in the state — one who Cal Lee and Ron Lee compare (at this stage) to the fine Chicago Bears professional (now retired), Saint Louis graduate Olin Kreutz.
• Century runners. Jahred Silofau rumbled for 101 yards and a TD on 13 carries, becoming the first Crusader rusher to crack the century mark this season. Last year, now-graduated Adam Noga hit the century mark three: 150 yards against Pac-Five, 208 against ‘Iolani and 114 in a playoff loss to Kamehameha.
• Depth chart. Though Saint Louis is still a relatively small school and ‘Iolani is mid-sized, at best, the Raiders didn’t have quite the depth defensively that coach Wendell Look would like.
“Our guys are trying hard and doing the best they can,” the seven-time Division II state championship coach said. “We’re only two deep at every position.”
Against a heavily armed, no-huddle Saint Louis run-and-shoot offense, the Raiders simply had no choice but to pick their poison. Only three healthy cornerbacks were available, as well as two running backs.
“We need some depth. That’s not making excuses. That’s just a fact,” Look said. “After our first two series, we moved the ball. Saint Louis has lots of weapons and they’re big up front.”
For critics who insist that ‘Iolani belongs in D-I with bigger, deeper teams because of wins and losses, the evidence speaks otherwise.
Division I opponents
L 55-20 Saint Louis
L 56-35 Leilehua
L 38-22 Kamehameha (Aloha)
L 49-13 Saint Louis (Aloha)
L 56-0 Punahou
W 35-34 @ Waipahu
L 68-39 Saint Louis (Aloha)
L 42-34 @ Kamehameha
L 56-14 @ Punahou
L 42-7 Farrington
W 21-14 Waianae
L 38-18 Punahou
L 42-35 Saint Louis
L 55-14 Kamehameha
L 43-23 @ Mililani
W 13-6 Kamehameha (Aloha)
L 24-19 @ Punahou
L 41-14 Saint Louis (Aloha)
L 42-21 @ Castle
W 23-21 Kapolei
W 20-17 Kamehameha
W 35-12 Punahou
L 28-0 Saint Louis
Going back to ’09 and ’10, the Raiders were highly successful with Jarrett Arakawa and Reece Foy at QB, deeper and very good.
But the last two seasons have shown that competing against ILH D-I teams is a major burden. The Raiders have some decent size up front this season, but as Look said, depth is an issue against those D-I state-title contenders. Last year’s team fell short of the D-II state title — and final — for the first time since ’06.
As long as elite programs — Punahou, in particular — can offer far more financial aid (meeeeeeellions) to student-athletes than other schools, it would be sensible for the Raiders to remain in D-II. The past few years have demonstrated that competition in the ILH for the finest scholars and athletes remains as cut-throat and cannibalistic as ever. That is unlikely to ever change.
It is simply the reality of this food chain.
Besides, wins and losses (power rating) are discouraged by the National Federation of High Schools as a criteria for classification. NFHS prefers enrollment size as criteria.
• Target practice. ‘Iolani’s Keoni-Kordell Makekau is already among the frontrunners among placekickers (four field goals), but his playmaking ability as a wide receiver makes him a focal point for defenses. Saint Louis did what it could to contain him; Makekau finished the game with four receptions for 42 yards and one TD.
The 5-foot-9, 162-pound junior was targeted six times, all in the first half. Quarterback Austin Jim On (16-for-26, 146 yards, no picks) found sure-handed Tyler Teruya more often. Teruya was targeted 10 times and made nine catches for 63 yards.
Nick Kennedy was targeted three times (two receptions, 35 yards). Connor Ohira was less fortunate (four targets, one catch, 4 yards). Connor Hannum (one target) and Brent Nagami (two targets, one grab, 1 yard) got looks in the second half.
In all, Saint Louis’ defense allowed just 5.3 yards per pass attempt, which is excellent.
Against a conservative Raiders defense, Crusader QBs Tagovailoa and Kuhns spread the ball around, connecting with 10 different receivers. One incompletion. Not 100-percent sure, but 25-for-26 might be close to a record for accuracy for any team with at least 20 or 25 attempts.
Their first six pass attempts went to five different teammates and no Crusader was targeted more than four times. There’s a certain discipline to staying within the offense, making reads and trusting receivers enough to let the ball go.
Maybe Saint Louis could just air it out to Drew Kobayashi (who received a scholarship offer from Cal last week) with eight to 10 bombs every game, but force-feeding is not what they do. Right now, Tagovailoa’s reads seem to be in tune with OC Ron Lee. Fun for Crusader fans. Not so fun for opposing defensive backs.
• Spectators at Eddie Hamada Field (a.k.a. Kozuki Stadium) may have notice a change this fall. The new scoreboard is bigger, wider and more easily viewed. But it doesn’t have the old “Eddie Hamada Field” title on it like the old one did.
Coach Look is well aware and hopes to get that added to the new scoreboard soon. Rewind the clock some years back and the facility was metal bleachers (very hot on a sunny afternoon) next to tennis courts, an old ice cream machine (I miss that thing) and an awesome ice-cold water fountain.
Change is good in other ways, though. The facility’s press box is beautiful, air-conditioned, windows are tinted. Seats are in the shade. Still, the late Coach Hamada himself probably would prefer that his name not be on the scoreboard. He’d probably prefer “One Team” up there.
Maybe there’s room for both.
• Crystal ball. At 2-1 (1-1 ILH), the Raiders are still the favorite to repeat as ILH D-II champions — depth or not so much depth. Jim On is still one of the top 10 QBs in the state, operating a balanced attack that excels at spreading defenses across from sideline to sideline. He is usually extremely efficient.
Saint Louis is 2-3, but all that matters is their ILH mark: 2-1. A strong finish — Kamehameha this weekend, followed by St. Francis and Damien — leading into the playoffs would give them a chance at first place and a playoff bye. But with a single round-robin format, it would take 1) a win over Kamehameha (and running the table), and 2) a Kamehameha win over Punahou. That would leave all three D-I teams tied, assuming they run the table against their D-II opponents.
In any event, Saint Louis is guaranteed a playoff berth. No team in the Top 10 has endured ups and downs — or as rigorous as preseason schedule. They may be building toward the future, but they may also find the future is going to be here sooner rather than later.