The St. Francis football team is still in search of its first victory against Interscholastic League of Honolulu competition.
The Saints sure threatened to end that hunt on Friday afternoon.
They played up-and-up with the ILH’s annual Division II power, ‘Iolani, for most of the Raiders’ eventual 28-6 win at Eddie Hamada Field. It ended the season for the undermanned Saints, who concluded the second campaign in program history at 2-7.
Saints coach Mike Ulufale gave an impassioned speech to his team on the field immediately after the game, and was still plenty pumped during a subsequent 1-on-1 interview.
“These boys gave me everything they got today,” Ulufale said. “I mean, they went down fighting. Even when ‘Iolani was kneeing the ball (at the end of the game), we was still coming at them. It was, you lose you go home. So the kids know how important this game was.”
Starting quarterback Kawika Ulufale was one of several sophomores in prominent roles this year for the Saints. Ulufale went 10-for-23 for 97 yards and two interceptions Friday. He was one of two Saints to complete a pass, receive a pass and rush for positive yardage.
In three meetings to date against the Raiders (including a 37-point loss just last week), it was by far St. Francis’ best showing against the team accustomed to competing for Division II state championships.
“You know we got all these young boys, they’ll be hungry next year,” Ulufale said. “They’re tired of being pushed around. And they going to be the big boys next year. We still gotta prove it on the field. We’re playing against varsity quality teams with 10th graders. Not taking away the leadership we do have from our very few seniors, and very few juniors. But you watch, by next year our boys going to be ready. And we’re going to have the numbers. So we’ll be able to focus on every-day offense, and every-day defense.”
It’s a good bet that St. Francis will continue to grow and improve. The Saints had eight sophomores on defense and seven sophomores on offense, Ulufale said.
“They gotta learn discipline. But today with the way they played, even when they made mistakes, they’re going hard. So the intensity today was amazing. We were in the game, and our defense kept us in the game.”
Just a week after ‘Iolani routed St. Francis 44-7 to cap the ILH first round, the same two teams were matched up again, and were just a touchdown apart at halftime — a very tentative 7-0 lead for the hosts. But ‘Iolani seized control with three touchdowns in the third quarter. Quarterback Austin Jim On passed for three touchdowns for the game, including two to Tyler Teruya.
‘Iolani coach Wendell Look said it was the most his team punted all season — five times in the first half. The Saints also picked off Jim On twice before the break, including a great batted ball and rolling grab by lineman Supilani Mailei in the second quarter, and forced another turnover on downs.
“Mike did a great job with his kids, to battle back from the kind of game we had last week, and to play this kind of game, you know, it takes a good coach to do that,” Look said. “His kids came out fired up, ready to go. And they gave us a game, they gave us a run for our money. We came out flat … I don’t know what it was. No excuses, they outplayed us.”
Ulufale credited ‘Iolani junior linebacker Melvin Hoomanawanui for much of the Raiders’ success in denying the Saints any points until Jonah Luis-Mateo plunged into the end zone from the 1 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just difficult because No. 28 for ‘Iolani (Hoomanawanui), that kid is amazing and he should be at the next level, D-I quality,” Ulufale said. “And I believe in my heart that kid is a winner. He sniffed out everything (we tried). And that kid is a player.”
St. Francis ended its season at 2-7 after a 2-0 start; it beat Kea‘au 33-14 then South Alberta (Can.) 56-0 before going 0-6 in the ILH regular season, and 0-1 in the ILH playoffs.
In their first season of 2013, the Saints notched a single win — against Drumheller, another Canadian team.
‘Iolani will face Damien for the ILH D-II playoffs title game on Oct. 24 at Aloha Stadium. If Damien should win, those two teams will rematch the following week for the overall league title and a state berth.