One of six active coaches of at least 20 seasons and with more than 120 career wins, Kapolei’s Darren Hernandez doesn’t experience many firsts these days.
Friday night will be an exception. For the first time in his 23 years at Campbell and Kapolei, the Hurricanes head coach will be on the opposite sideline of a Cal Lee-coached Saint Louis squad.
The Hurricanes will take their best shot at the No. 1-ranked Crusaders at 7:30 p.m. at their home field.
They have met only once previously and Saint Louis has never played on Kapolei’s field. The Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 35-6 at Aloha Stadium in the preseason in 2004 with Stanley Nihipali at quarterback.
Saint Louis quarterback Jayden de Laura is undefeated through his first four starts but is coming off a four-interception performance in a seven-point win over Punahou. Already at six picks this season, no Crusaders quarterback has thrown more than eight (Chevan Cordeiro last year) in the last six years. De Laura has been tested in his last two games, throwing half the touchdowns in games against Punahou and Kahuku than he did in the first two.
Saint Louis has spread the rushing attempts nearly equally between Dayton Sam (26), Robbie Paikai (23) and de Laura (27), and they each have three touchdowns. That is a drastic difference from last year, when Cordeiro ran the ball 100 times with 10 touchdowns and everyone else combined for 135 rushing attempts and 10 touchdowns. No Saint Louis rusher has had more than 10 attempts in a game.
The strategy of sharing the wealth doesn’t extend to the passing game, as Roman Wilson and Chance Beyer have four touchdowns each after Mitchell Quinn caught half the touchdowns (17) the Crusaders threw last year. Beyer is the possession guy with 20 catches and Wilson is the deep threat with 12 but 134 more yards. Wilson gets better every week despite the tougher competition, with 10 grabs against Punahou and Kahuku after getting only two in the first two games.
Makoa Close and Koalii Nishigaya are also dependable, combining for 19 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown.
The Hurricanes have reverted to their roots and become a running team again. Through six games, Kapolei has 149 rushing attempts after only 54 all of last year. Ezekiel Waiolama leads the way with 333 yards and three touchdowns but seems to be wearing down after his 12-carry, 114-yard effort in Califoirnia. He has 19 carries for 39 yards since.
Zion-Jabez Robello is a solid No. 2 with 324 yards on 15 fewer carries and proved he could carry the load with a 16-111-1 performance against Punahou. Noa Bailey is holding up at quarterback despite the tougher schedule but is completing only 41 percent of his passes and averages an interception a game. His struggles against Punahou and Farrington are concerning with Christian Rapis right behind him.
The receiving corps desperately needed someone to step up after returning only 10 catches from last year and De’Zhaun Stribling and Ikari Stokes have more than done it. Stribling and Stokes have combined for 43 catches and 667 yards and seven touchdowns despite the run-heavy philosophy and defenses clamping down on them in the last three games.
Statistics say that Elijah Badoyen, one of two returning receivers who caught a pass last year, might have a future as a deep threat with only three catches this year but they covered 93 yards and a touchdown, making him good for 31 yards every time he gets his mitts on the ball.