Friends and family gathered around the Saint Louis football players after practice Thursday at the school’s campus.
It was a picture-taking moment. Brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, girlfriends, grandfathers. A big gathering.
It was an important moment. The season is almost over. Another important moment comes Saturday, when the Crusaders (9-0) put their 14-game winning streak on the line in the Open Division state championship.
It comes, as usual, against Kahuku (11-1). It’s the third year in a row the two teams will meet in the big game, and 13th overall with bragging rights up for grabs.
The last two years, the underdog going in won it all. Kakuku took it in 2015, 39-14, and Saint Louis got it back last year, 30-14.
Once again, it could come down to Kahuku’s trademark defense and Saint Louis’ high-powered offense.
Eliki Tanuvasa, the Crusaders’ starting center, knows a lot is riding on the line play. If Kahuku’s defensive front seven gets in on quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, it could be a long night.
“I believe the game is going to come down to the trenches and if we are going to win it’s going to come down to how our O-line does,” Tanuvasa said after Thursday’s practice. “If we can block their front four and pick up all their blitzes, then we can (be productive). If we don’t do good, we’re going to lose that game. I think it’s really going to come down to our whole O-line. We prepared a lot this week. We just gotta be ready for them. Kahuku is a great team. They’re coached up very well. They play hard and aggressive. We’ve gotta come in this game with our foot on the pedal.
“We were underdogs last year, and I think we were more hungry than they were and I think that’s what gave us the edge. So for this year, since they’re the underdogs, we’ve got to come out even harder. Anything can happen.”
Tanuvasa is a three-year starter, but he was hurt for the state final two years ago.
“My sophomore year, it was a deflating loss,” he said. “We learned not to take anybody lightly and always come out 100 percent. My junior year, the thing I remember the most is seeing that clock wind down and knowing that for a whole year we can say we were number one, that we’re the state champs.”
Both teams will be gunning for that feeling Saturday at Aloha Stadium.
Saint Louis defensive line stalwart Faatui Tuitele, a junior with 18 division I offers, has a lot of faith in the O-line on the other side of the ball.
“The O-line leader is Eliki Tanuvasa,” Tuitele said. “Man, that guy is a workhorse. He’s an animal, nice leverage, lengthy and strong at the same time, hard to get by. I think he’s one of best centers in the state.”
Tuitele, who knows that he and his defensive mates will need to disrupt Kahuku quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava and put a stop to running back Enoch Nawahine and others in order to come out victorious, was nervous going into last year’s game.
“I had the jitters,” he said. “Our defense was good last year, too. We went out there and we just did what we do best and gave it our all. There were a lot of ups and downs in that game. We made our adjustments. That Kahuku team was a good team, no doubt, and they’re good this year, too.
“Playing in this rivalry is a great honor. Everybody knows this rivalry. We’re not playing for just ourselves. We’re playing for all the Crusaders who have played in this game before. We’re not taking them lightly. Everybody has got to do their jobs to be successful.”
Next up: A report from Kahuku’s Friday practice.