They weren’t perfect, but the Saint Louis Crusaders were pretty close.
Facing elimination, Saint Louis amassed 464 yards of total offense in a 41-7 runaway win over No. 1 Kamehameha on Friday night at Aloha Stadium. By winning the ILH playoff tournament, Saint Louis will meet Kamehameha, the regular-season winner, for the league title and an Open Division state tournament berth next week.
AJ Bianco was a dual threat once again, continuing a metamorphosis since the first time the teams met. He passed for 351 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for a 13-yard score.
“They give a pretty similar look to what we’ve seen in the past. I think it was more taking what the defense was giving me,” said Bianco, who committed to Hawaii last month. “The play calling was just great and we were able to catch them in a lot of looks that we wanted.”
Bianco completed 16 of his 21 pass attempts, spreading the pigskin to seven different receivers.
Kamehameha had won the first two meetings in dramatic fashion, 23-21 and 34-31. The latter game was a comeback win by the Warriors, who trailed 31-20 at the half and benefited from a Saint Louis fumble near midfield in the fourth quarter to rally and win. This time, the Crusaders took care of the ball for the most part with just one turnover.
“I just feel like each week we’re getting better and better, gaining chemistry. I can feel everyone’s confidence,” Bianco said. “Finishing. We also came out with a lot more energy. That was a big thing this week, just really emphasizing finishing.”
On Friday night, Saint Louis had a 3-0 lead when the football leaked free on a draw play. Kamehameha recovered at the Saint Louis 43-yard line.
“Here we go again,” Crusaders coach Ron Lee said. “That happens. That was bad fundamentals. His hands and stuff. They can’t make mistakes. They won’t play.”
The Crusaders limited Kamehameha’s smashmouth ground game to 121 rushing yards. Warriors running back Noah Bartley had 32 yards on eight carries before leaving with an ankle injury. In this third battle between the teams, Saint Louis’ front seven seemed to clog just about everything between the tackles and beyond.
“We’re playing a lot better defense. That’s the key. That’s what helps the offense,” Lee said.
The championship game next week will be at yet another level of elite competition. Saint Louis has evolved in the past two games, but Kamehameha will be sharper than ever in the coming week of preparation.
“Oh no, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get better,” Lee said. “This is a big game. We didn’t win anything. We’re just playing better. Next week is huge. Next week is for the marbles. I’m not surprised. We played the way we practiced.”
Another factor is the touchbacks by Saint Louis kicker Lason Napuunoa, who connected on field goals of 30 and 22 yards in the first half.
“It’s about time. He does it in practice. Now he’s starting to do it (in games),” Lee said.
Kamehameha planned on having practice Saturday morning.
“We have one more game and we’ve got to make that count,” Warriors coach Abu Ma‘afala said. “Nothing matters, even tonight. We have to match the intensity of the moment. They had some pretty nice schematic things to stop us. We missed a lot of opportunities. This is championship football and we’ve got to learn to embrace the experience.”
Saint Louis planned to have a rest day on Saturday instead of the usual workout.
“They worked hard this week,” Lee said. “And they’re going to have to work hard again next week.”
Bianco’s first year as a starting quarterback is clearly on an uptick. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound two-sport standout has been far more elusive in the past month.
“It’s always a good feeling after you win, but we know next week is the one,” he said. “We expected this to happen. Our defense, the last two weeks, has been playing lights out. Them guys have been balling.”
Including last week’s 35-0 elimination-game win over Punahou, the Crusaders have outscored their foes 76-7 in their last two games.
At Aloha Stadium
Saint Louis (4-3, 2-2 ILH) 10 17 14 0 — 41
Kamehameha (3-2, 3-1 ILH) 0 0 0 7 — 7
STL—Lason Napuunoa FG 30
STL—Devon Tauaefa 45 pass from AJ Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
STL—Bianco 13 run (Napuunoa kick)
STL—Napuunoa FG 22
STL—Jaysen Peters-de Laura 18 pass from Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
STL—Mason Muaau 65 pass from Bianco (Napuunoa kick)
STL—Keola Apduhan 3 run (Napuunoa kick)
KS—Raiden Morris 60 pass from Kealii Ah Yat (Winston Freitas kick)
RUSHING—STL: Keoni Catrett 4-15, Keola Apduhan 6-34, AJ Bianco 6-17, Chaz Delto 3-12, William Lentz 2-7, Elijah Dolor 1-3, No. 86 1-1. KS: Noah Bartley 8-32, Kealii Ah Yat 3-(-11), Dwight Apao 1-24, Blaze Kamoku 1-(-2), Micah Mahiai 11-50, Sunrise Solatorio 5-29, team 1-(-1),
PASSING—STL: Bianco 16-21-0-351, Kauna‘oa Kamakawiwo‘ole 4-8-0-25. KS: Kealii Ah Yat 8-19-1-103, Brayden Keopuhiwa 0-4-1-0.
RECEIVING—STL: Trech Kekahuna 5-56, Muaau 2-78, Peters-de Laura 4-93, Tauaefa 2-58, Chyler DeSilva 3-49, Yosei Takahashi 2-29, Randon Cordeiro 2-13. KS: Bartley 1-3, Duke Lorenzo 2-7, Sheyden Iokia 1-4, Kamoku 1-8, Morris 2-73, Mahiai 1-8.