There’s an old saying, that victory goes to the last man standing.
In this case, it was No. 2 Saint Louis that was just a bit healthier, riding its ground attack behind a giant, pulverizing wall of trench men for a 35-21 win over No. 3 Kamehameha in the final of the ILH football playoffs at Aloha Stadium. Saint Louis (5-3, 2-2 ILH regular season) will represent the ILH in the state tournament on Dec. 18. Kamehameha, which was ranked No. 1 for four weeks after beating Saint Louis twice in the regular season, finished 3-3.
Winning another ILH crown is nothing new for the Lee brothers, head coach Ron and defensive coordinator Cal, but the circumstances of 2020, a cancelled year, and ’21, are like no other.
“With so many new kids, seeing how they learned, how they’re behaving in school, grades getting better, that’s what it’s about,” Ron Lee said. “Another championship, I’m not looking to add to a resume. To see these kids have some success, they went through a lot. That’s what’s important.”
Quarterback AJ Bianco was tireless, rushing 20 times for a 117 yards, both career highs. He and the Crusaders took what little was given by a resilient Kamehameha defense. With Bianco and the Crusader passing game on point in recent wins — 41-7 over Kamehameha and 35-0 over Punahou — the Warriors picked their poison and it worked for a half.
The game was 14-all entering the break, but the tide had begun to change with Bianco and a posse of running backs picking up yardage on the ground. The Crusaders finished with a whopping 47 carries for 250 yards (5.3 per attempt). Many of those key yards by Bianco came on scrambles upfield between the hash marks as the Warriors dropped into coverage, but a few big plays came on speed options.
“We put in that wrinkle yesterday,” the 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior said.
No. 2 Saint Louis over No. 3 Kamehameha 35-21 for the ILH title. AJ Bianco rushes for 117 yards and 2 TDs, including the game clincher with 4:02 left Bianco also passed for 358 yards, TD. @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvSports @StLouisHawaii pic.twitter.com/mGE0WW1cj9
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) November 6, 2021
“We’ve had it in before, but not from the elephant,” Lee added. “The first time we ran it, we missed a block or he would’ve walked in. Then we ran it again and he scored.”
In short yardage, it was unstoppable. He scored on a standard quarterback sneak early in the game, but his 1-yard keeper to the left with 4:02 remaining sealed the win. Kamehameha had no choice but to respect the basic dive.
The lead-up to that final TD by Saint Louis was a bit strange, but unsurprising. With all that work on the ground, Bianco had run four yards to the 1-yard line of Kamehameha. He got up and seemed woozy. Then it seemed like he was ready to, well, heave a big one. Not a football, either.
“I didn’t puke though. I might have gagged, but I didn’t puke. That one, I landed on the ball. I was close (to puking), I’m not going to lie,” he said.
With the wind knocked out of their QB, Saint Louis called time out. Two plays later, he scored on the option keeper, fresh as new.
“That was a wrinkle we actually put in, I think yesterday. Coach Ron put it in. Great call,” Bianco said.
Moments later, Kawaihinano Kalaukoa’s interception of a deep pass by Kealii Ah Yat all but sealed the win for the Crusaders. It was a thriller at times, with a big question mark tagged at the finish: what if Kamehameha running back Noah Bartley hadn’t hurt his ankle last week against Saint Louis. He gave it a shot on Friday, carried the ball four times for five yards in the third quarter, and didn’t return.
The Warriors rushed for 99 yards on 29 carries and moved the ball with success with Ah Yat having perhaps his finest game, particularly under big-game pressure. However, they faced a Saint Louis squad that is peaking at the right time. The defense, which lost linebacker Tasi Tadio early in the season to injury, evolved as quickly as the offense.
“It was all about adjustments at halftime,” junior linebacker Iona Purcell said. “Coach Cal came up with a gameplan that he always had in his pocket. We came out to play. It’s all about finishing. It’s not how you start the game, it’s how you finish.”
A week ago, the Crusader defense showed immense improvement against the Warriors and Bartley, limiting him to 28 yards on seven carries before he suffered the ankle injury in the second half.
“We’re always working hard at practice. We knew what they were running because we’ve played them so many times,” Purcell said. “You’ve got to know what they’re going to run, and we all were in the film room. We’re executing our plays, doing our assignments, our 111, and we came out with the win.”
Tadio’s heartbreak with a knee injury hasn’t stopped his impact.
“It’s a tough process, but these guys, they’re helping me the whole time through the process, and I’m on the sideline with them,” he said.
“He’s a good leader. He’s always a big brother to me,” Purcell said. “He’s telling me what I’ve got to do, what my assignments are, what we’ve got to do to stop these guys.”
Tadio, in his game jersey and shorts, has stayed in shape, working through rehab. His spirit is intact.
“It feels good. We can get ready, rest, get ready for the OIA. There’s a few tough teams and we have to get ready to play,” Tadio said.
Bianco was in the spotlight as a first-time starter in the season opener at Bishop Gorman. His evolution as a Saint Louis QB has been almost surreal.
“I’m just so happy, man. I’m real proud of these guys, the way we’ve been able to just overcome adversity this year,” Bianco said. “The job’s not finished. We still got states.”
With that, the last man out of the tunnel emerged near the Saint Louis busses. Teammates chanting “AJ, AJ, AJ!” Then, “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P!”
When the season began, Bianco was a classic pocket passer behind a physical, talented offensive line. Then came a torrent of blitz packages from the likes of nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman and Kamehameha. The Crusaders had no choice but to evolve.
Offensive coordinators often cringe when their QB takes off into the wilderness to take on a stampeding herd of tacklers. Bianco flipped the switch, became a highly-effective playmaker with his legs, and even in today’s aeronautic style of football, nothing wins a team over like a guy willing to take the risk.
“That kid is special,” Ron Lee said of Bianco, who committed to Hawaii a month ago. “He didn’t have a junior year, this year is kind of short, but how he’s playing the last three games, unbelievable. Smart, high football IQ. Just the way he executes, you just don’t throw it. You have to know where everybody’s going to be. He’s not just standing in the pocket, and they played max coverage.”
While Kamehameha’s defense did all it could to stop the versatile Saint Louis offense, the Warriors defense made do without a healthy Bartley. Micah Mahiai picked up 27 tough yards on 10 carries between the tackles against a stacked defensive front. Bartley, unlike nearly any other running back in the state, could move the scrum. Given a bit of a crease, he broke long runs — and a reception — to paydirt.
But the ankle injury took away one of the state’s best running backs. In the merciless world of the gridiron, Saint Louis turned out to be the last man standing.
At Aloha Stadium
Kamehameha (3-3, 3-1) 7 7 0 7 — 21
Saint Louis (5-3, 2-2) 7 7 14 7 — 35
KS—Kealii Ah Yat 1 run (Winston Freitas kick)
STL—AJ Bianco 1 run (Lason Napuunoa kick)
STL—Hikaalanikekia‘i Dancil-Evans 9 run (Napuunoa kick)
KS—Blaze Kamoku 19 pass from Ah Yat (Freitas kick)
STL—Keonimanamemanao Catrett 10 run (Napuunoa kick)
STL—Trech Kekahuna 21 pass from Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
KS—Ah Yat 1 run (Freitas kick)
STL—Bianco 1 run (Napuunoa kick)
RUSHING—KS: Micah Mahiai 10-27, Kealii Ah Yat 10-41, Duke Lorenzo 1-(-1), Sunrise Solatorio 1-2, Levi Ma‘afala 1-1, Dwight Apao 2-24, Noah Bartley 4-5. STL: Keonimanamemanao Catrett 9-45, AJ Bianco 20-117, Chaz-Ayden Delto 2-14, William Lentz 1-4, Dancil-Evans 8-58, Chris Ano 1-6, Elijah Dolor 1-3, Kekahuna 1-0, team 2-(-4), Yosei Takahashi 2-7.
PASSING—KS: Ah Yat 16-23-1-162. STL: Bianco 19-22-1-358.
RECEIVING—KS: Duke Lorenzo 3-22, Dwight Apao 1-7, Raiden Morris 5-48, Ma‘afala 3-31, Kamoku 2-32, Sheyden Iokia 2-22. STL: Mason Muaau 2-38, Trech Kekahuna 6-125, Devon Tauaefa 6-136, Jaysen Peters-de Laura 4-45, Titan Lacaden 1-14.
Congrats. What grade is the St. Louis QB? 6’4” 225. He can run too.
ILH and saint lulu probably recruiting college players to play for them now. it’s so sad what they did to high school football. it’s not about community anymore. it’s just about buying championships. sad! RRFL!
OIA fan, he is a Senior attending the University of Hawaii next year. at Saint Louis you can’t be just a drop back passer, you need to be able to run also, and that’s pretty much what all the QB’s at Saint Louis does, that’s why they are so successful, they can scramble, on another note: What a nice coach of Abu Maafala from Kamehameha as he came on the field as a Saint Louis player was down with an injury, to be by his side as the trainers was attending to the injured player, now that is a man with a lot of class, Kale Ane did the same when he was at Punahou.
OG RRFL : YOU GUYS ALWAYS WHINING ABOUT SAINT LOUIS, IT WAS ALWAYS LIKE THAT FROM WAY BACK, PRIVATE SCHOOLS DON’T GET THEIR STUDENTS FROM THE COMMUNITY, IT’S A PRIVATE SCHOOL THEY COME FROM ALL OVER, WHAT YOU EXPECT, I NOTICE YOU GUYS CAN’T EXCEPT THE CRUSADERS BECAUSE OF THEIR GREAT TALENT, NO MATTER WHERE THEY CAME FROM, THAT’S LIFE, ALL PRIVATE SCHOOL STUDENTS COMES FROM AFAR, MAYBE THE OIA SHOULD JUST PLAY WITH THE OIA, HAHAHAHAHA
Kahuku crybabies keep coming every year boohoo. Not like you guys don’t have the 26 mile district to get your students so don’t even talk. You guys have the most amount of area out of every public school for the kids to come from, on top of that a bunch of kids that move here from Utah as well. Let’s even go further with the fact that 3 teams from the OIA can make it to states so that means a bunch of losing teams have a better chance to make it to the championship over the best ILH teams
Paul can tell the fake posters. They come with false names to incite a back and forth hate tirade. They also come in on a 30 minute “talking” to the themselves. Dont fall for it. Good game St.louis.
Lol, a cry baby, calling others crybaby, then sounding like a crybaby! Waaahhhhhh. So funny. Great game Bianco.
@OG RRFL – What are you talking about? How did they ruin HS football? There have been great games between them and other schools. Outside of the 2019 class but that team was special! Same as several Kahuku, Waianae, Punahou, etc. teams in the past. Are you ok with OIA teams recruiting? How do you feel about what Kahuku did to the Waialua program? Or what Waianae has done to Nanakuli? Parents and kids make the best decision for them. And that’s the way it should be! Let the kids play, sit back and enjoy.
Hmmm, I wonder if Mililani only has Mililani district kids on their roster……
The best team in the ILH this year won last night.
They probably should have been undefeated, but shot themselves in the foot in their 2 losses. They almost did it to themselves again last night with turnovers and penalties.
Good job Crusaders.
Next week, Kahuku vs Mililani should be a good one!
Mililani has the most out of district players followed by Kapolei & Campbell. If they would crack down and enforce the District exception rule hard and you would have to play for your district school, then in the OIA it would be dominated by Waianae Kahuku and Farmington hands down with Mililani & Kapolei battling in the lower divisions against Moanalua & Castle.
Great job Crusaders. The Warriors had an excellent season and gave the Crusaders a war. Congrats all around
Maafala great coach, even though did not win with numbers, because he is a great man. Look forward to the day that he will be president of Kamehameha Schools.
Going into it, Warriors knew it was a steep uphill battle with Bartley sidelined. He got injured last week. Good win STL. Now you can enjoy your front row seats to the Red Raider Show!
And for the ignorant out there, yes Kahuku’s district stretches many miles, but it’s coastline so when you look at the overall population they have one of the smaller HS in the state. They only average about 200 per class.
Thanks ILH, Also impressed with a couple defensive players with familiar last names. No mention of the kicker. I’m assuming he’s the younger brother of the last kicker. I worked with his father, he was a great guy.
I can agree with you, I think the OIA should have their own state championship. ILH can have theirs. The playing field is not even. I think St. Louis has a great team every year. They just keep reloading. It’s a credit to the Lee’s.
VaxFan, yeah I hear you. Maybe number the amount of GE’s to a percentage. Mainly, football.
@ OIA fan – If you split the 2 leagues would you still call it a “State Championship”? Or would you call it a ILH & OIA Championship? Because if that’s the case, how is that different from what we have now? We still have a OIA champ. And what about the outer islands and the other 2 divisions? Do they go away?
My comment was in response to someone’s opinion that the “OIA should just play with the OIA.” I agree. I didn’t map out the format. But yes, the ILH big 3 can be the open division. Winner is the state champion of the open division. If Kahuku feels they have a really strong team, they can enter the open division. No one else in the OIA has a chance at beating St Louis. The OIA and outer Islands make up Division 1 and 2.
I have nothing against St Louis. They put together a program that is recognized nationally and it helps our kids in recruiting for college. To think the playing field between the OIA and ILH is equal is absurd.
The only reason the playing field is not equal is because of the recruiting. if the ILH wants to make super teams, then they can just play with each other and go tour on the mainland. they can play IMG academy. kick the ILH out of the state tournament and play pure high school football. RRFL!
@ comment #19
So would Mililani be getting the boot for recruiting (“out of district”) too as noted in comment #11?
Kahuku fans, your season is still in Progress, the teams that awaits you are Mililani and Campbell, everyone other team is in the wrong division. and even if you get by Mililani and Campbell there is one team that stands in your way for the State Title, the SAINT LOUIS CRUSADERS, they will be waiting for you , if it is you.
Nothing bad to say about Kahuku, but I’m curious on how they jumped to #1 with playing the worst teams in the open division. Anyone know?
@Dafun. Beginning of the season rankings are all opinion based. OIA season just started. Just gotta take it with a grain of salt. I think the fans care more about the rankings then the players. If my favorite OIA team starts unranked and then wins the OIA title, I could care less about a week 3 ranking.
My only gripe with rankings is when they rank a lower division team over a higher division team. I see it a lot in girls volleyball. Same ILH teams always. If they are that good, then they’re sandbagging because they know they can’t compete with the stacked ILH teams at the top.
STL has ALWAYS recruited as does Pun/Kam/Millz, but I’m a little curious. Can someone remind me who owns the most State Titles since the tourney was launched? It’s been a hot minute, but it was never an excuse in the past for Red Raider Nation.
STL is on ice right now. All that momentum will be lost. Sad how that played out.
#7 Hypocrite…Eddie K
September 25, 2021 11:02 am
The line of quick thinking St.Louis quarterbacks has ended. Lots of communication problems thru out the game. Congrats Kamehameha. This years team is legit.
The line of quick thinking St.Louis quarterbacks has ended. Great game Bianco?????????
SMH, LOL, WTF
1. Kahuku moves to a passing game and St. Louis to a running game? Should be interesting if these guys get to meet up.
2. That RR4L is obviously not a true RR4L.
3. I definitely think its good to mix the leagues… Let OIA play against tough competition. Id rather they see themselves playing against good competition otherwise, they wont be properly prepared to take down good competition in post league play.
Should be a good one, Kahuku is kicking butts and taking names, but haven’t seen really good competition yet.
how can a lower division team be ranked higher lol, how in the world is Iolani and Campbell ranked in front of Punahou? The Hawaii high school football system is messed up. But thats what happens when you have OIA Crybabies , especially the RED RAIDER Nation. Punahou Kamehameha and Saint Louis are Private schools , they have no district , so whatever kids goes there it is what it is. BTW Kahuku recruits , trust me i know, I know people that know people that know people, alot of these kids are family members moving to Kahuku claiming they from Kahuku when one , they from Samoa or two, they have families that live elsewhere on island but moves with them. Cmon guys , Kahuku people just mad because they Goliaths ( check the birth certificates , cause honestly if you seen some of these kids, they look like Adult Men ) and still gets out smarted by the smaller lol.
Gosh. Tell us how you really feel.
Any response to these allegations?
Especially on the transfers from Samoa?
I just always thought that Millville was the only one bringing in transfers.
Are there any players on the RR team that are out of district or have just moved to Kahuku in the last year??
I would have never thought that RR’s needed to do this but according to Windmill it is happening.
According to the Star-Advertiser, in a report published last year, Kahuku High School will no longer use the term “Red Raiders” for the school‘s athletic teams, evidently because of the term being politically incorrect, racially charged and insensitive, and promoting a bigoted stereotypical image of the aboriginal people of the North American continent. The term is a curious, odd name for a school in Hawaii with a Hawaiian place name that probably has a meaning and a mo’olelo attached to it that is incompatible with the term, and would be more appropriately named to match the inoa wahipana(place name) and school name and the attached mo’olelo(story) Kahu(guardian, custodian of) Ku(one of the four major deities of ancient Hawaiian and Polynesian theology, the god of war) Ku also means to stand, or to take or make a stand in support of. So a suggestion for a replacement name-Na Ku Kia’i, guardians, protectors.