This time, the Saint Louis Crusaders saved their celebration jigs for post-game.
No. 1 Saint Louis posted a 49-22 win over No. 4 Kahuku in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships on Friday night at Aloha Stadium. Next week, the Crusaders will face OIA Open Division champion Mililani for the state title, but for at least a little while, they’ll enjoy the moment.
“I’m glad it’s over. We were very fortunate to win,” Saint Louis coach Cal Lee said. “We had some big plays. Hopefully, we can get better. We’re going to enjoy this win and get ready for Mililani next week. We’re going to celebrate tonight. Twenty-four hours, that’s it.”
Saint Louis’ defense, with titanic stoppers Faatui Tuitele, Stanley McKenzie and Gino Quinones up front, limited the Red Raiders to 158 yards of total offense on 65 snaps. That’s 2.4 yards per play.
The Crusaders’ defense may rank among the best three ever in school play, and as Punahou coach Kale Ane believes, it is certainly a Top 10 defense nationally.
“They’re big. They’re fast. They’re long,” Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said.
Linebacker Jordan Botelho, still just a junior, keeps coming up with impact plays. This time, he returned a pass 25 yards for a touchdown. So did Harvey Welch with a 52-yard pick-six. Both touchdowns came in the third quarter, capping a dominant performance by the Crusader defense.
Kamo‘i Latu picked off two passes. Botelho and Lawai Brown had six tackles each. Nate Herbig and McKenzie each tallied five tackles. The balance up and down the tackle column is a byproduct of a responsible defense.
There was one slightly confusing moment in the second half, when the Crusaders scored a touchdown with a return down the left sideline, but were penalized for something along the sideline. The TD stuck, but Saint Louis was assessed a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
“It was a matter of our guys going in for a touchdown. It’s very hard for our players to stay behind the white line. They usually do. You could wait, but then it’s all over,” Lee said.
Kahuku scored a TD late in the first quarter, then added another on a kick return in the second quarter. For the most part, until the Red Raiders’ final TD in the final minute against Crusader reserves, it was fundamentally classic defense. Great positioning. Keeping the offense in front.
“I was really happy about that. We played disciplined defense,” Lee said.
Mililani is the one team Saint Louis didn’t play in the first year of the OIA-ILH alliance due to the threat of a hurricane. Dillon Gabriel’s experience and precision in their RPO-driven offense has been difficult for almost every defense to slow down. The fact that he’s a southpaw shouldn’t change anything for Saint Louis.
“We’ll play the same way. He plays both ways (left and right),” Lee said.
The starting defensive unit permitted just one Kahuku touchdown. Kahuku returned a kickoff for a TD. Lee and his team will be back to sharpen their skills again at Kalaepohaku. The mission is not yet complete.
“They scored on a kickoff return,” Lee said. “So we can’t be that good.”