They ran the ball well, but the end zone mostly eluded the St. Francis Saints.
Defensively, they were pitching a shutout against Pac-Five quarterback Ryan Johnson, who has a history of torching defenses.
And yet, early in the second quarter, the Saints had a mere 8-0 lead after dominating action on most snaps. That’s when the punt return team of St. Francis turned things into a block party. Two blocks — the first by Chris Vanisi (who now wears #94) and the second by Wembley Mailei — changed the tone of the battle, and though the Saints didn’t net points, it also turned the field-position battle in favor of the team in sky blue.
Mailei had the time of his life, blocking a punt — his older brother Supilani recovered and returned the ball to set up their team’s second TD — picking off a deep pass and scoring on a 2-point run. Just another day at the office for Mailei, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior.
St. Francis needed this win, and the 30-0 score verified what the Saints (5-2 overall) had discovered six nights earlier: Defense, Special Teams and a battering-ram ground attack work well together. The Saints enter next week’s ILH Division II, Round 2 title game against Damien with momentum. The Monarchs will be better rested, but the Saints? They’re marching in.
St. Francis brought an extra pass rusher on some snaps against Johnson, but for the most part, they didn’t bring more than five all night. They stayed back in coverage, wrapping up to keep Pac-Five receivers from gaining much after contact. The results: Johnson completed less than 50 percent of his tosses (15-for-36) and averaged less than 5 yards per attempt.
Those are winning numbers for the Saints. A four-wide offense needs to be at 65 percent completion rate to truly be in a game-long groove. And that YPA needs to be above 7 to be effective. St. Francis didn’t record a sack all game long, but the job got done anyway.
> Sticking to the game plan
The St. Francis blueprint entails as much ground and pound, as much defensive stickiness as possible. They ran 49 times for 367 yards behind an offensive line that Coach Kip Akana has great praise for. It was a no-frills night, as usual, for the Saints. QB Bubba Akana didn’t complete his second pass until the final 11 seconds of the first half, but it happened to be a 12-yard TD to Micah Kalei. And from that moment on, only one single pass attempt — by backup Jake Smotherman. Nothing cute. Nothing clever. Just ground and pound and another Saints victory.
> Thunder and Lightning
Foki Kailea‘s career night included 10 carries for 124 yards and two TDs. He shared the duties as the tailback in the Saints’ I-formation with Tyson Shimabukuro (15-123, one TD). Kailea is 6-1, 200 pounds and falls forward after contact most of the time. Shimabukuro is, well, not as big, but has great balance, vision and power.
It’s a throwback look that a purist would love, and if you enjoy the intricacies of the I, you’re dating yourself. There were no toss sweeps (student body left and right), and though those backwards passes were a wee bit spooky, just about every carry by Kailea and Shimabukuro had the results and look that the Saints love.
Coming up through the ILH ranks, winning an intermediate title a few years ago, this group of Saints had to wonder how it would be done. Damien always has solid coaching and talent. Pac-Five racked up 50 on Damien just a few weeks ago. But the plan works, the plan is executed, and now the Saints are one step closer to an ILH varsity crown.
The likes of a Wembley Mailei is a game-changer, but Akana has the recipe that works for this personnel. It’s always fascinating to see an old-school approach succeed in today’s game.