With Friday night’s 45-6 win over Kahuku to end the prep football season, the Saint Louis Crusaders inched even closer to the Kahuku Red Raiders.
The win brings a seventh koa trophy to Kalaepohaku, just one shy of Kahuku’s record of eight in the top-tier state championship. In 21 years since the first state tournament was held, Kahuku and Saint Louis have combined for 15 state titles and each have won more than every other school in the state combined.
The gap between the two schools has never been as wide as it looked in Friday’s finale of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships at Aloha Stadium. Saint Louis’ 39-point win was the largest margin of victory ever in a state final in the top division. Only once (Punahou beating Leilehua 38-7 in 2008) had a team won the title by more than 30 points.
Nonetheless it was all one big relief for Coach Cal Lee, who added a fifth state championship to his personal collection that includes 14 Prep Bowl victories.
Any loss potentially suffered by the Crusaders (12-0), who have won 38 in a row and and are ranked sixth in the nation, would have been a monumental upset.
“Now that it’s over I am so happy for the players,” Lee said. “It was a long season. I’m really proud of the way they responded through the season to end beating a team like Kahuku is a tremendous blessing.”
Lee knows first-hand how beating Kahuku is never a given. The Red Raiders upset Lee’s Crusaders in the 2000 final in the first of five straight wins over Saint Louis in state finals.
It’s a number hard to believe. From 2000 to 2015, Saint Louis went 0-5 against Kahuku with a koa trophy on the line.
That has since changed beginning with Tua Tagovailoa‘s signature win of his prep career, beating the Red Raiders in 2016. A year later, Chevan Cordeiro made one of the most memorable throws in the history of the state tournament when he hit Jonah Panoke for a 53-yard TD in the final minute of a 31-28 win over the Red Raiders.
The Crusaders haven’t lost a game since 2016 and that nail-biter against Kahuku has been replaced with Friday’s blowout.
So many seniors had a hand in the win. Senior quarterback Jayden de Laura, who finishes his career 22-0 as a starter, ran for two touchdowns and threw for 280 yards, with an 86-yard TD to fellow senior Roman Wilson on the game’s second play.
Senior linebackers Nick Herbig (2 1/2 sacks, 5 1/2 tackles for loss) and Jordan Botelho (1 1/2 sacks) accounted for four of the team’s nine sacks. Saint Louis had 18 tackles for loss.
Five of the team’s top six leading tacklers and all four receivers who had positive receiving yardage are all seniors.
It’s a special group with some of them able to say they played in all four state finals.
“It feels great. It’s our four-peat and we played hard tonight,” Botelho said.
The schools this senior class will head off to are impressive. There’s Notre Dame (Botelho), Michigan (Wilson), Wisconsin (Herbig), Utah (safety Kamo’i Latu), UCLA (receiver Matt Sykes), Cal (defensive lineman Stanley McKenzie) and Washington State (de Laura). Seven players from one school in Hawaii headed to Power Five schools.
It’s also a lot to replace come 2020. With so much uncertainty ahead now that the two-year pilot program between the OIA and ILH has come to an end, the landscape of prep football in Hawaii could look a lot different come next August.
One thing is for sure, however. No matter how many seniors the Crusaders lose, there is plenty of talent left behind. Rebuilding? Not at Saint Louis. Not when you’ve won 38 straight.
No matter what prep football looks like in 2020, the Crusaders will still be the team everyone is chasing.