Saint Louis coach Cal Lee arrived at Aloha Stadium on Saturday “100 percent” concerned with the dual-threat potential of Punahou quarterback Stephen Barber.
A dominant Crusader defense eased any anxiety Lee might have felt before kickoff.
Saint Louis’ cohesion at all three levels — defensive front, linebackers and secondary — kept Barber contained and helped the top-ranked Crusaders drop him for six sacks in their resounding 49-13 win over the fourth-ranked Buffanblu.
Already a clear pick atop the Star-Advertiser top 10 for much of the season, Saint Louis reinforced its standing with wins over No. 5 Kamehameha and Punahou by a combined score of 93-13 to open league play. The Crusaders next take on an out-of-state challenge on Sept. 23 when Narbonne (Calif.) visits Aloha Stadium.
As he walked up the north tunnel after Saturday’s win, Lee credited the Crusader secondary for forcing Barber to hold the ball and give a tenacious defensive front time to track him down. Linebacker Noa Purcell recorded Saint Louis’ first sack on the third play of the game and the Crusaders never relented.
Junior defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele ended Punahou’s first possession with a fourth-down sack and opened the scoring by forcing Barber out of the end zone for a safety early in the second quarter.
Barber entered the game averaging 209 yards passing and 92.5 yards rushing in Punahou’s first four games and sealed wins over Junipero Serra (Calif.) and Kamehameha with 99- and 55-yard touchdown runs in the Buffanblu’s previous two games.
He picked up 20 yards on a first-quarter scramble, with half of it called back due to a holding penalty, and managed to break out of trouble on a few occasions. But he finished with a total of minus-14 rushing yards on 13 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury to his throwing arm after taking a jarring sack.
“He’s a big, athletic quarterback,” Tuitele said of Barber, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior. “He can scramble, he can throw. … We had a hard time tackling, we have to work on that more. Just capitalizing on each down, making it count every time, that was the main focus.”
Saint Louis held Punahou to 21 yards in total offense deep into the second quarter before Barber led the Buffanblu to their first touchdown. Punahou went into the locker room with 81 yards and finished with 119. Three Punahou quarterbacks combined to throw for 185 yards while Saint Louis pushed the Buffanblu running game backward with 12 tackles for loss.
Punahou’s ground total of minus-66 yards included a 23-yard loss on a high shotgun snap recovered by Isaiah Taliulu and another 23 on an errant punt snap that resulted in Saint Louis’ second safety of the game.
Saint Louis led 26-7 at halftime and the defense was on the field for just nine plays in the first 15:07 of the second half. Punahou went three-and-out on their first three possessions after the break for a net of minus-20 yards while the Crusader offense ran 28 plays for 209 yards while reaching the end zone on their first three drives of the second half.
Saint Louis quarterback Chevan Cordeiro did most of his damage on scrambles in the first half — rushing for 42 yards on his first five carries — but found his groove and completed 10 of 11 throws in the second half on his way to a 345-yard, four-touchdown performance. Receiver Mitchell Quinn caught three of those scores and finished with 142 yards on six receptions. The Crusaders finished with 516 yards in total offense.
Punahou coach Kale Ane said Barber wanted to return after taking a big hit in the third quarter. The Buffanblu face Kamehameha again on Friday in a rematch of their 21-0 win last on Sept. 9.
“Hoping some rest will allow him to play,” Ane said.
Hugh Brady and Nui Adolpho alternated drives to end the game with Adolpho throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Koa Eldredge with 31 seconds left.