It’s only 5:10 p.m., more than two hours from kickoff, but the Faga‘itua Vikings are already on the turf here at Aloha Stadium.
No helmets or pads yet. Just getting their feet acclimated to the synthetic turf here. Even in just shorts and their bright red jersey tops, they look relaxed, focused and in sync. What else would we expect from one of the premier programs from American Samoa.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
There are questions floating out there about whether the Vikings will be able to withstand the unique passing skills of Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but those questions abound for ANY defense that faces this generation’s hybrid version of Kenny Stabler and Warren Moon. (Strictly my opinion.)
Saint Louis’ defense hasn’t quite performed at an elite level, but that’s partly due to sturdy competition in scrimmages (Mililani) and preseason (Kapolei). The talent is certainly there. Coach Cal Lee says his two standout linebackers, Isaac Slade-Matautia and Jordan Loveni Iosefa, are rounding into the kind of game shape that will propel this defense. Both sat out last season after transferring in from public schools. Iosefa already has committed to play for USC.
Safety Isaiah Tufaga is expected back from injury in two more weeks. Meanwhile, Lee said that offensive lineman Nate Herbig (Stanford) practiced this week and is probably going to play some snaps tonight, just “to get his feet wet.” Also expected back in a limited role is wide receiver Drew Kobayashi (Cal).
So this is what I can piece together based on what I’ve heard. Faga‘itua runs the ball well. The line play is solid when they do that, and they spread the field to create a lot of potential running lanes. Defensively, they just haven’t been tested by the likes of a Tua Tagovailoa. When the Vikings scrimmaged Mililani, the Trojans held out their first team to save them for a scrimmage with Saint Louis the following night.
The Vikings won that game-format scrimmage against Mililani’s reserves. Whatever the case, to travel this far and be away from home this long (three weeks) and perform at a high level is impressive, to say the least.
This game is not being televised locally, though Vikings coach Suaese “Pooch” Ta‘ase said it would be broadcast back to American Samoa. I’ve got my video camera ready to roll. New, bigger memory card, longer-lasting battery (just in case). History is going to be made tonight no matter what the outcome is. American Samoa is in the house.
The Vikings start with bad field position after recovering a muffed kickoff return at their own 4. They drive to the STL 22, but stall.
Crusaders go 78 yards in 10 plays. Tua Tagovailoa to Leelan Oasay on third and goal for a 10-yard TD pass. STL 7, FHS 0, 6:06.
The Vikings go three and out, then a 20-yard punt gives STL possession at the FHS 35-yard line. Tagovailoa finds Oasay for a 12-yard TD pass on third-and-11, with Oasay just getting pver the goal line on a crossing route. STL 14, FHS 0, 2:33
The Vikings throw a pick on their next play from scrimmage, but a dropped pass by STL hangs in the air and is picked off by Atoni Tauaa. But the Vikings fumble the ball away on the next snap and STL recovers.
And on the next play, the Vikings almost sack Tagovailoa, but manages to dump the ball off to Jonathon Manalo, who breaks two tackles and weaves his way through traffic for a 69-yard TD pass play. STL 21, FHS 0, 1:05.
The quarter ends with the ball in the Crusaders’ hands again. Tagovailoa sprints up the middle for a 21-yard gain.
The Crusaders drive 61 yards in four plays despite a holding call — and a personal foul on the punt return before the series. Tagovailoa’s ability to run is wreaking havoc on the Vikings defense. He then finds Saitaua Lefau on a crossing route, and Lefau wriggles past defenders and sprints down the sideline for a 36-yard TD. STL 28, FHS 0, 10:15.
Faga‘itua gets on the scoreboard. QB Raemos Fano launches a 37-yard bomb to Malaki Peko Thompson. The PAT run is stuffed. STL 28, FHS 6, 7:03.
An interception by cornerback Jalen Saole, his second of the game, sets up the Crusaders at the Faga‘itua 20-yard line. He took it to the FHS 5, but STL was whistled for a personal foul (again). Jahred Silofau punches it in on a 2-yard run. STL 35, FHS 6, 1:49.
Tanielu Evaimalo comes up with his second big play of the first half. He strips the ball from Vikings RB Sam Talivaa and returned it 20 yards to paydirt for a TD. During the first series of the game, Evaimalo stopped a fourth-down run by the Vikings to end their threat. PAT is blocked. STL 41, FHS 6, :55.
The half ends at 41-6. Tagovailoa directed Saint Louis to TDs on all four of his series. STL inserted backup Chevan Cordeiro for the last two series of the half with mixed results. He was sacked twice, including once by the versatile Oly Ta‘ase on his first series. Faga‘itua has been conservative for the most part when facing Tagovailoa, but brought the house against Cordeiro.
It’s not just the Vikings who struggle against Saint Louis’ highly-coveted QB. He’s putting on a clinic so far: 9-for-14 passing (two drops) for 175 yards and four TD passes. Oh, he’s also rushed four times for 50 yards. He makes this look like a video game just about every time he is on the field.
Ta‘ase has 48 rushing yards on nine carries. The Vikings dropped their spread sets in favor of double-tight end looks during the first quarter. It isn’t their normal approach, but it did work well enough to ring up a TD.
Dylan Silva scores on a 3-yard run, his first carry of the game to cap a six-play, 65-yard drive. It seems that there were two 15-yard penalties assessed to the Vikings on one play early in the drive. STL 48, FHS 6, 5:50.
Humidity and heat taking a toll on the Vikings. TE Thomas Kitiona went down with a leg cramp on the ensuing series. Now it’s Ta‘ase, who gained eight yards and couldn’t get back up without going back down. He’s been fun to watch. Probably done for the night. He just looks like a future Division I college linebacker to me. Great motor.
Cordeiro finds Tosh Kekahuna in the flat and he takes it to the house for a 19-yard TD. STL 55, FHS 6, 11:16.
5:55 p.m. The Crusaders have just arrived.