Saint Louis coach Cal Lee doesn’t have a quarterback controversy.
What he does have is two outstanding players at that position. For the first few games, sophomore Tua Tagovailoa and senior Ryder Kuhns platooned, but now the Tagovailoa owns the starting job.
“Tua is our guy at quarterback,” Cal said on the phone Wednesday. “Ryder is supportive and that’s the way it has to be.”
Kuhns had a phenomenal year as a junior, throwing for 2,016 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions in eight games.
So how is it possible that a sophomore is responsible for putting Kuhns on the sideline?
It can be only one thing.Tagovailoa is an uncommon talent.
Well, of course, that is too early to tell. This is his first year on the varsity and he’s only made two starts, and the first one was against defending state champion Punahou.
“He’s starting to settle in and get used to the starting role,” Lee said.
After two solid performances while platooning in losses to state Division I runner-up Mililani and reigning MaxPreps national champion St. John Bosco of Bellflower, Calif., Tagovailoa was put to the test by the rival Buffanblu in a 55-7 defeat and only completed 15 of his 33 passes.
But the exceptional ability that impressed Lee enough to thrust Tagovailoa into the starting role came into clear focus in the team’s 60-13 victory over Pac-Five on Friday.
Fans in attendance at Aloha Stadium witnessed tight, deep, on-target spirals all night. Tagovailoa went 21-for-26 for 440 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a 55-yard score and was never sacked.
“There were a couple of passes that were dropped,” Lee said. “Sometimes the kids are thinking about running after the catch and take their eyes off of it. You’ve got to catch it first and then run.”
Kuhns came in to complete four of five passes and a touchdown for 60 yards.
For the season, Tagovailoa has completed 65 of his 99 passes for 897 yards, 12 TDs and one interception. Kuhns is 25-for-47 for two TDs and two interceptions.
It certainly helps both quarterbacks to have a deep crew of top-notch receivers. Drew Kobayashi gained 134 yards and scored two touchdowns — one from each QB — on just three catches. Four others went over the 50-yard mark on the night — Riccardo Sallas II, Allan Cui, Keanu Souza and Jordan Goo.
It doesn’t hurt to have someone like Fred Ulu-Perry, a UCLA commit, playing left tackle for you. Next time you’re at a Saint Louis football game, don’t watch the ball. Watch Ulu-Perry instead and make sure to buy some popcorn. He will be worth the price of admission. They haven’t invented a word for his kind of blocks, which flatten more than pancakes. Smoothing asphalt with steamroller blocks is more like it. But, ah, that is not a catchy name, now is it?
Better yet, just Google “Ulu-Perry highlights” and skip the popcorn. It will be cheaper and much easier than driving to the game, and you can replay it over and over again and wonder what in the world is driving this kid. If he isn’t in the NFL some day, then … well … HawaiiPrepWorld.com will look silly for saying such a thing.
On the way to the bus up the North end zone tunnel after the win over Pac-Five, Lee said softly to Tagovailoa just as the latter was about to be interviewed by a reporter, “Mention your offensive line.”
“That’s where it starts,” Tagovailoa said. “That’s the foundation. Losing (three games in a row) did get to us. I think we are ready to move onward and upward from here.”
There is a third quarterback in the Saint Louis rotation, just in case. His name is Colton Nascimento and with Tagovailoa and Kuhns ahead of him on the depth chart, Oahu fans might not get to see what he’s got. Fortunately for Nascimento, a senior, he’s seeing action as a wide receiver.
The Crusaders (1-3, 1-1 ILH Division I) visit ‘Iolani for a Saturday game.