Sometimes, words just aren’t enough.
With a 35-0 win over Mililani, top-seeded Saint Louis has advanced to the Open Division final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships. Shutouts in Open Division play aren’t so common, and less so in the state semifinal round.
The Crusaders came up with four takeaways as Coach Cal Lee graded his team’s defensive performance an A-minus. In other words, not much to bemoan. Not many penalties. Three interceptions — by Bronz Moore, Brian Cox and a pick-6 by linebacker Lawai’a Brown. Mililani finished with 106 yards of total offense, averaging 2.3 yards per play against the nationally-ranked Crusaders.
“(Mililani) moved the ball a little bit. You’ve got to feel real good and happy for what our team did tonight. Anything you can hold a team to 0, that’s doing a helluva job,” Lee said.
When the teams met during the regular season, Mililani led 14-13 after one quarter. Saint Louis went on to win, 54-21, but there were lessons learned that night. This time, Cox helped set the tone with a first-quarter interception in the red zone.
“It was cover-3, just had get deep. It was an underthrown ball. I just read it and picked it up,” Cox said. “Our D-line, Ant (Anthony Sagapolutele), Darrell (Masaniai), Stan (McKenzie), they put the pressure on the quarterback. He makes a bad throw, we make the play.”
The process of film study, field reps, constant focus — Saint Louis is now in position to win its fourth state title in a row.
“You work on the things, you know, that they scored on and you try to improve on that, so definitely. We worked on it and it kind of showed a little bit. We played better tonight,” Lee said.
Brown’s interception near the Mountain West logo on the mauka sideline was clean and nice, but his return was even nicer. That play iced things, opening the lead to 35 points and triggering the mercy-rule running clock with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve studied a lot of tape. We’ve had a lot of time to prepare and watch a lot of film on their formations and everything,” said Brown, who had a team-high five tackles, including two for loss. “We could read the plays before the snap. We were ready for anything, but as the game went on, we were comfortable with what plays they ran.”
Lee wasn’t surprised by Brown’s open-field speed.
“We do gassers, so it’s 100 yards. He’s used to running 100 yards,” Lee said.
Linebacker Mason Tufaga hustled for five tackles, and Dennis Tadio and Kaiser Cambra-Cho tallied four tackles each. Three of Cambra-Cho’s tackles were for loss, and he recovered a fumble.
Slotback/running back Koali Nishigaya suffered a hip injury in the second quarter and did not return.
“He’s good to go. He’ll be fine,” Lee noted.
The win sets up a classic showdown between Saint Louis and Kahuku in the title game next week.
“Oh God, we’ll have tomorrow to think about Kahuku,” Lee said.
Saint Louis blanked Kahuku 28-0, but the Red Raiders have improved vastly over the course of the season.
“I know they’ll come out fired up. They’ve got a good fan base. It’s nice playing Kahuku because it’s a good environment to play in, a lot of energy. We just feed off the crowd’s energy,” Brown said. “Kahuku’s physical, a really physical team.”
For defensive backs like Cox, Kamo‘i Latu and Moore, the scheme will be quite different. Kahuku operates with two tight ends and a bulldozing fullback, often Zion Ah You, their starting nose tackle. In Kahuku’s 21-19 win over Campbell earlier, they often lined up with just one wide receiver.
“Probably going to be more man (defense),” Cox said.
Kahuku lined up talented DBs Kaonohi Kaniho and Tomasi Pasi at wide receiver against Campbell.
“It’s fun to play against the best,” Cox said. “It makes me better.”