Cal Lee had seen enough.
“Hey guys, go to the bus. It’s 12 o’clock! Let’s go!”
The clock struck midnight and Cinderella was nowhere to be seen. Saint Louis’ breathtaking 64-44 win over Punahou on Friday night verified so many things, answered so many questions. One clear answer: the Crusaders are top dog in the ILH, bringing the haymakers on offense and — when they needed it most — defense. It was Hagler and Hearns, gridiron style,
For Lee, now in the third season of his third go-round as Saint Louis head coach, it is time to leave this house of memories and get back to campus, roughly four hours after Saint Louis and Punahou began their heavyweight showdown. Lee never stops coaching. As his Crusaders and the Buffanblu met after the game to shake hands, his eyes were on the two teams that had played a monumental game, at least statistically. They combined for nearly 1,200 yards of total offense and 108 points. (Billy Hull dissected the many amazing details in his By the Numbers post this morning.)
It was an offensive laboratory on synthetic turf, points racking up pinball-wizard style as slightly mad geniuses on both sides tested out the old and the new elements of their playbooks. Even in the final two minutes, offensive coordinator Ron Lee, architect of stupendous four-wide offenses at Kaiser, and then Saint Louis, over the past four decades, could be heard reacting out in the Crusaders’ coaches’ box. Always discerning, still coaching hard with a sizable lead, he seemed almost happy.
Putting 64 points on the board had to be satisfying to some extent for the longtime OC. For brother Cal, well, even in a 20-point win over a major rival in the ILH, there’s no gratification. Not after just two league games. Not as a defensive coordinator and winningest coach in state history.
“I thought it was a helluva game, but I don’t think it was one of our better games. You know what I mean? We put some points on the board, but we had holding, we had penalties, you know? We’ve got to play better,” the head coach said, marching into the mauka tunnel of Aloha Stadium. “We’re going to play these guys again. You’ve got to try and get better. That’s all there is to it.”
Defensively, his Crusaders gave up 30 points in the first half. For a long stretch, Punahou’s offense seemed unstoppable. Nick Kapule was on his way to an ILH-record breaking 495-yard passing night. But the points dried up after a second-half opening drive as Saint Louis came up with two turnovers. Rick Sandry forced a fumble, recovered by Isaiah Tufaga near midfield. Kai Kaneshiro came up with a key interception as Kapule faced a fierce pass rush. It was four D-linemen against one of the state’s best O-line groups. Trench battles titled toward the Crusaders after intermission.
Saint Louis had linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia on the field during the crucial comeback in the second half, still not quite 100 percent. Safety Justin Saole, also cleared to play, made his season debut after surgery in early August to repair a broken clavicle. Both defenders gave Saint Louis major boosts in pass coverage. Down 36-28, the Crusader defense, even on a record night by Kapule, turned the game around and sparked a 36-0 run.
Lee nodded when Slade-Matautia and Saole came up in conversation. When there are general offensive or defensive corrections to be made, he gets right to the point. But when he’s proud of the heart and guts of his defensive guys, there aren’t many words. The nod says it all.
“They wanted to play,” he said.
First place in the ILH now belongs to the team in navy blue and red from Kalaepokahu. The chess match between Lee and Kale Ane will resume in three weeks, Sept. 29.
“You’ve got to give them credit, too. They went out there and moved the ball on us. They’re a good football team,” Lee said. “Thank the Lord that we came through. Honestly, it could’ve gone either way. Offensively, I feel good about what we did, but we can become better. We’re still looking to play a perfect game yet.”