The sequel was great for a time.
No. 2 Punahou brought all kinds of looks on defense in hopes of distracting Saint Louis’ young quarterback, Jayden de Laura. After all, the first-year starter was quite frazzled by the Buffanblu when the teams met on Sept. 15, a 35-28 win by the Crusaders.
On Saturday night, facing a slew of different looks, including an eight-man front to start the game, the junior passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 51 yards and two more scores as No. 1 Saint Louis (9-0, 7-0) captured the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Open championship with a 45-21 rout at Aloha Stadium. The Crusaders also clinched the league’s only berth in the Open Division state tournament.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity. Not a lot of people can say that they went into the state tournament,” de Laura said.
Numbers don’t tell all. de Laura’s ability to move out of the pocket, avoiding a tenacious pass rush, was the difference for Saint Louis’ offense. The Crusaders had run the ball on 53 percent of their snaps this season, but really didn’t get the ground game untracked until late in the first half. By then, the lead was 28-7 entering the second half and Punahou’s relentless defense was beginning to tire.
“We had our game plan this whole week and we worked. We got done what needed to be done. I just had to take care of the ball. I came into the game thinking I have to make more plays with my feet and run more,” de Laura said. “Credit the O-line. The O-line and running backs did a great job.”
Robbie Paikai finished with 104 yards on nine carries and backup QB Connor Apo blazed for a 67-yard TD run. But de Laura’s nimble feet — and field vision — were the antidote to Punahou’s defense, a unit that might be, or was, the second-best in the state, arguably.
Saint Louis’ determination to run the ball paid off again, and the protection from a veteran offensive line are giving the team more than enough offense to keep up with a defense that Punahou coach Kale Ane calls one of the best in the nation.
All the ingredients are a buffer of sorts for de Laura, who has settled into the starting role the way Chevan Cordeiro did a year ago as a first-time starter. de Laura has now completed 109 out of 159 pass attempts, or 68.6 percent, for 1,885 yards with 18 TDs and just six picks. That’s a QB rating of 196.69, on par with what Marcus Mariota scored in his senior year.
There was a scary moment for Crusader fans when a Punahou pass rusher hit de Laura in the knee as he delivered a pass. He was down for a minute before leaving the game. He returned one play later.
“It’s all part of the game,” he said. “You get knocked out, you just got to get back up.”