The earth trembled, the dark clouds parted and, for the first time since 2013, Kamehameha has a football victory over Saint Louis.
Kamehameha’s stunning 23-21 win over the four-time Open Division state champion Crusaders was a long time coming. Saint Louis had not lost a game in Hawaii since 2016, a 36-game win streak that began after a midseason loss to Punahou.
“Our guys executed. Our coaches did an incredible job of getting ready from a game plan standpoint and they got our players to execute. I’m just so proud of our kids,” Warriors coach Abu Ma‘afala said. “They hung in there. They weathered the storm. It’s Saint Louis, guys. For them to get this victory, I can’t be happier for them.”
Much of what the Warriors did on Friday night at Aloha Stadium was bred blue and white all the way, from Ma‘afala, a former Kamehameha standout, to an offensive line that was dominant in the trenches, particularly down the stretch. Running back Noah Bartley moved entire scrums.
“I’m not really surprised. Me and my linemen been working together for the past three, four years. We made a bond that’s hard to break,” he said. “I love my O-line. I’m about to treat them after this. They really take care of me.”
Coach Abu Ma’afala is the last man out of the tunnel at Aloha Stadium. No. 5 Kamehameha stunned No. 1 Saint Louis 23-21, ending their 36-game win streak in Hawaii-based contests. @KSKAthletics @HawaiiPrepWorld @StarAdvertiser pic.twitter.com/4M9MxgRf9X
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) September 25, 2021
Bartley made his way to the bus after a few interviews. The chant from his teammates was a crescendo of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
It was a game plan by defensive coordinator Matt Wright, who was the head coach at Saint Louis in 2012 and ’13, that also made a substantial difference. On key fourth-down plays by Saint Louis, Kamehameha’s big blue wall stood firm. In fact, the Crusaders opted to pass on a key, fourth-quarter fourth-and-1 rather than run, even though they had been working diligently on a jumbo package featuring their deep, elite corps of offensive linemen.
On fourth-and-five at the Kamehameha 25, Saint Louis came up empty as Kamehameha outside linebacker Dylan Palama sacked AJ Bianco.
“Our coach called a great pressure. I just timed it well, came off the edge untouched,” Palama said. “At least five times, we called that play. They blocked it to the other way, the end crashed down. Our defense is all about speed.”
Therein lies the rub. Palama, like Wright, has some roots back at Kalaepohaku.
“I feel amazing. I know the boys at Saint Louis. I used to go middle school with them. It feels great to finally get a win over them,” Palama said.
It’s only fitting, of course, that a young player named Palama defended in the clutch for the team from Kapalama Heights. There is also this: when Kamehameha lost a thriller to Punahou to open the ILH season, Palama did not blitz once.
“I consider myself more of a linebacker, but over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been working more pressures. I’ve been more linebacker, but also you could consider me part D-end,” he said. “I blitzed at least five times today. Against Punahou, I barely blitzed.”
In other words, nobody had tape of Palama as a straight pass rusher. Not in 2021. Not in 2020, of course. What does Saint Louis do as much or more as any program in Hawaii? Study game tape.
Sportswriter Billy Hull covered the game for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. At one point in the second half he asked, “Who’s the DC for Kamehameha?”
“Coach Matt Wright called a great game. He did a great job of mixing up the calls and keeping them guessing,” Ma‘afala said. “Our secondary coaches got our secondary to understand what they were doing, to keep their eye discipline and here it is. It paid off.”
Another key to Kamehameha’s defensive might is that they do some things differently.
“We make practice extremely hard. We tackle at practice,” Ma‘afala said. “We go for times like this. So I’m proud that they finally got a payday off of this. We’ve got a big one coming next week.”
The little things mattered. The wheels could have fallen off when quarterback Kealii Ah Yat suffered a leg injury in the second half, but reserve Dwight Apao was ready. The offense kept moving with heavy doses of smashmouth football, using Apao occasionally as a primary ballcarrier.
“When I got on the field, we just had to follow our game plan. Coach told us to execute and that’s what we did,” the senior quarterback/wide receiver said. “Our O-line, they always put in work every single day. I think our run game is good, but we’re just expanding on our pass game, too. We’ve just got to keep putting in the work. We had the mindset that we were going to come into this game and we were going to win. That was our message all week. Nothing is impossible when you have a team that works hard every single day and puts in the work that we do.”
Post-game celebration was brief. Spirited, but brief.
“We got pot luck back at school, be right back to work tomorrow (Saturday). 8 o’clock practice,” Palama said.
Bartley was one of the first Warriors to move forward after the heartbreaking loss to Punahou a month ago. He knows that with a break here or there, his team would be 2-0 right now.
“Everyone on this bus feels like we should’ve won that game. It was just the little things,” he said. “I feel that it’s a really big win that we needed. After beating a team like Saint Louis, it gets us out there. Now everyone’s 1-1. We’re even.”