(Here’s the extended version of today’s follow-up piece on Saint Louis and Waianae.)
They haven’t forgotten where it began.
The Saint Louis Crusaders (11-1) completed their reunion campaign with coach Darnell Arceneaux as state champions thanks to a 36-13 win over Waianae on Friday in the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships. But they remembered the summer conditioning program and all the work at Kapiolani Park, where they trained part of the time because of renovations on campus.
“We’ve been working since summer time, back in May. We worked our butts off at Kapiolani Park and UH’s field. It was an awesome experience,” said defensive end Juda Parker, who transferred from Word of Life with offensive lineman Paulay Asiata when that school closed its doors.
The Crusaders weren’t allowed an easy walk to the title by Waianae (6-8), which caught fire in the state tourney with wins over Kealakehe and Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Mililani, the top seed. If not for the league’s disqualification of Kahuku, which was No. 1 and 10-0, Waianae wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play in the tournament.
To Saint Louis, Waianae was simply another dangerous foe that refused to back down.
“We had to focus and do the small things,” said senior wide receiver Duke Bukoski.
“We said, ‘Let’s take it play by play and continue to drive the ball down,’ ” senior quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
Mariota, who has committed to Oregon, finished 17-for-23 for 230 yards with three touchdowns. Saint Louis didn’t commit a turnover.
“He’s blessed with God-given talents. He’s just a great young man,” coach Darnell Arceneaux said. “His mom and dad did a great job raising him. I can’t wait to see him on Saturdays.”
Cornerback Leland Gomez had the spotlight after snagging two of his team’s three interceptions.
“We started putting up some points on the board and getting some three-and-outs. DBs, our mindset was we were ready for it. Just read the quarterback and get some picks.”
The background of that success came from facing Mariota daily.
“At least 100 passes a week. We do a lot of 7-on-7s, 1-on-1s. He’s got one of the best arms in the state,” Gomez said. “Practicing against him every day made us better as a team. Our ‘backers, our DBs did what we had to do to accomplish our goal. It was Waianae, Saint Louis, a big rivalry and we did what we had to do.”
A steady diet of run stops and pressure on Waianae quarterback Puletua Wilson didn’t hurt, either. Starr Sua-Passi (eight tackles), Na‘Alii Robins (seven) and Juda Parker (six) led the way in the trenches.
Mariota was highly efficient thanks to his line and a disciplined corps of route runners, including senior Joshua Tupua.
“From the beginning we had that mindset that we were going to win this no matter what. We didn’t have a field. We had to practice at Kapiolani. Ever since that, we had trust in each other that we’re going to win. Then we had that (nonconference) loss to Kahuku and that brought us closer together,” he said.
Arceneaux’s road to his first state championship was a circle. He coached at Saint Louis in 2003, leading the team to the state final before leaving in the offseason. Before returning this year, he guided Mililani for four years.
“Being at Mililani for so long, I learned so much from my staff with Rod York and the guys. They helped transform me, hopefully, into a better coach. We’re here now and I’m so blessed to be around so many great people.
“I didn’t sleep well last night. It was one of those deals where, you know, I’ve been here before, you know, uncertainties. You kind of question yourself and make sure that you’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted all your i’s. We did it and I’m so proud of our guys. We’ll enjoy this one and get back to work later.”
Waianae’s athleticism up front and downfield was key. Jaylen Mitchell’s breathtaking 94-yard kickoff return and James Wilson’s somersault flip over a defender and into the end zone were championship quality.
Wilson, a multi-purpose back, said he’s not really much of a gymnast.
“This entire season, I would always think if I could jump into the end zone at the 1, I saw that one glance so I had to take that chance,” Wilson said of the 14-yard touchdown pass. “I jumped up and look at the ref and there was no flag, so it was all good after that. I thought I could’ve landed it, but I was tripped up in the air. It’s all about the adrenaline rush.”
Despite the pride and penalties that went into a messy third quarter, players on both sides seemed to take the extracurriculars into stride.
“That’s how it is. This is a real classic football game here,” Wilson added. “Everybody knows that when us two go at it, it’s a battle, but it seemed like they just pulled away early.”
“We worked hard, we came from the bottom to the top. We grew together and we bonded. Whenever we needed to step up, we stepped up and did our job,” Wilson added.
The Seariders had momentum going into the half, trailing 23-13 after Mitchell’s touchdown.
“I noticed they were cornering me, so I thought I’d fake one way and go back the other, and it worked.
Most of it just happened,” said Mitchell, a sophomore.
The Crusaders held their ground, however, with defensive stops in the third quarter.
“It’s one of those deals you want to finish,” Arceneaux said. “And make sure your seniors go out on top.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser