If you happened to glance up at the Aloha Stadium scoreboard at the end of the third quarter Saturday, you noticed the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I championship football game was knotted at 20-all.
Players and coaches from both sides doing everything they can to not give in. To keep the season going. To win the coveted title.
But only one team could, and it was Saint Louis edging Punahou 27-23 for its first league championship since 2010. The Buffanblu’s four-year reign is over.
Heading into the fourth quarter, you knew someone was going to make a huge play or several people would make a series of plays that would account for the final difference.
With 9:37 left, Jet Toner — who told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Paul Honda after the game that he committed to play college football at Stanford — calmly drilled a 50-yard field goal for a 23-20 Punahou lead.
Toner has been known for making long field goals in critical situations. Ask Kahuku about last year. His effort was right down the middle, with plenty of room to spare.
That heroic field goal, however, didn’t hold up in the end.
So, who would be the person (or people) to get this thing done?
Well, Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one of a handful of players who dealt the final blow. He drove the Crusaders (8-1) for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:50 left and gave words of encouragement to running back Saitaua Lefau, who ran home the final 4 yards around left end.
This particular sweep that Tagovailoa called for Lefau worked a few times during the night, but other times it failed with yardage lost.
“At first, I thought Tua was going to keep it, but he told me he believed in me and that I could do what I had to do,” Lefau said.
The extra point by Jacob Tobias looked like it was going down the middle, but it hooked and hit the top of the left upright. It appeared to bounce off to the right and through, but two referees conferred for about 10 seconds before giving it the “good” signal for Saint Louis’ 27-23 lead.
“I wondered why they waited so long to make the call,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said after the game. “It looked good to me.”
Ane knew that with Toner in the game, the difference between a 3-point and a 4-point lead was major. Instead of trying to get into field-goal range for the sure-footed Toner, the Buffanblu would have to go all the way to keep their season alive.
It didn’t happen. Saint Louis defensive end Tanielu Evaimalu batted down a pass and then he sacked Punahou quarterback Nick Kapule.
That sack set up the final dagger. Kapule put up a high-arcing wobbler that Saint Louis’ Ronson Timbreza intercepted to effectively end the game.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I knew I had to get to it and get to it at its highest point so he (the receiver) wouldn’t get it,” Timbreza said.
It’s an early season-ender for Punahou (8-2), which is used to playing well into November.
“It was two good teams battling,” Paulo Soa, the Buffanblu’s 310-pound sophomore guard said after the game. “It was a very good game and pretty exciting and it came down to the team that made the least mistakes. This loss will stick with us and we’ll be thinking maybe we should have done more, maybe we should have taken that extra rep. But it was a good season overall.”
The Crusaders were sky high after bringing coach Cal Lee his first championship in his return to the team after many years coaching elsewhere. He won 14 Oahu Prep Bowl titles (the precursor to the state tournament) and one state championship with Saint Louis between 1983 and 1999 before returning to a second-place finish behind Punahou in 2014.
Saint Louis’ quest for its first state Division I title since 2010 continues. The Crusaders will likely get a bye in the first round and begin play in the state semifinals the weekend of Nov. 13-14.
“It’s amazing,” Evaimalu said. “Four years I play for Saint Louis and not once did we beat Punahou or come close to beating Punahou until now. Now we can bring the Koa (trophy) home.”