The streaks live on for Saint Louis.
Friday night’s 21-14 victory over Punahou at Aloha Stadium gave the Crusaders their fifth straight ILH title and 36th consecutive victory overall. But nobody put both of those in jeopardy this year like the Buffanblu did.
No. 1 Saint Louis (10-0) has breezed through its 2019 schedule this season for the most part, with the two exceptions each one-possession wins over No. 2 Punahou. After eking by 25-19 on Sept. 20, coach Cal Lee knew the second time around would be just as difficult.
“You feel really happy for the boys and all the hard work that they did,” said Lee, who was at the helm for 24 of Saint Louis’ 41 ILH championships. “But I gotta give Punahou a lot of credit. We had to battle all the way for four quarters to get this win. They’re a hell of a football team.”
On Friday night at Aloha Stadium, for one half it looked as though things wouldn’t be as close in matchup No. 2 between the two best teams in the state.
Jayden de Laura, a Washington State quarterback commit who was offered by USC earlier this week, put on a clinic in the Crusaders’ first drive, completing all four of his passes for 46 yards and then running in a 22-yard score to cap it off.
In the second quarter, Koali Nishigaya took an option pitch from de Laura for a 4-yard score with 6:01 left in the first half. Despite a missed field goal near the end of the second quarter, the Crusaders took a 14-0 lead into the break and were set to receive the second-half kickoff.
Punahou forced a three-and-out on the opening drive after the break and then clawed its way back to a 14-14 tie after a pair of short John-Keawe Sagapolutele touchdown passes to Raydan Kiaaina-Caires and Koa Eldredge.
“It was a battle. We didn’t quite get it done. Just proud of our team and how they fought,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said. “Scrambling back from being down 14-0 at the half then coming back and tying it up, really can’t ask for much more.”
De Laura gave Saint Louis the lead back for good with a 12-yard rushing score as time expired in the third quarter. Although he completed 22 of his 33 passes for 358 yards, it was the only time other than last year’s state title game against Mililani that he was held without a touchdown pass.
“For me, it’s kind of mixed emotions,” de Laura said afterwards. “It feels great but then again, I think we could’ve played a better game on my part. A win is a win, though. We got past this team.”
The Crusaders held on until the very end, including Lee’s bold decision to go for it on fourth-and-5 with 2:14 left at the Punahou 41.
De Laura stepped back and hit Matt Skyes for a 27-yard gain on a slant which essentially put the game away since Punahou was down to one timeout, but not before the Crusaders called two timeouts of their own to deliberate the play call.
“I’m not gonna lie, I had butterflies on that one. Matt, big-time players make big-time plays,” de Laura said of the UCLA commit. “We trusted him to put the ball in his hands and he pulled through.”
The short-handed Saint Louis defense had a memorable game as well, taking the field without suspended linebacker Nick Herbig, perhaps the most productive player on this year’s unit. Linebacker Sonny Masaniai saw a bigger role in the Wisconsin commit’s absence and rose to the occasion with multiple sacks and tackles for loss. Even star linebacker Jordan Botelho was used in kickoff coverage.
The Crusaders’ interior defensive line was a force as well, with DTs Anthony Sagapolutele and Stanley McKenzie there to meet Punahou running back Vincent Terrell on almost every run at the line of scrimmage. Terrell entered the game rushing for 957 yards and 13 touchdowns, but his count was at minus-8 yards on five carries at halftime. He finished with nine carries for 5 yards.
Tributes for Herbig were seen on the gear on multiple Saint Louis players, including ‘Team 19’ and ‘Free Herbo’ inscriptions on helmets.
“We just do it for our brother. We just had to remember that ‘we’ is greater than ‘I’ and just remember this is for Nick, and just give it our all,” McKenzie said.
For Punahou, the season ends at 10-2, with its lone losses the tough battles at the hands of the Crusaders.
“Punahou is a great team. They bring a lot of energy. They’re very methodical with their plays,” McKenzie said. “They’re just a great team in general. It sucks that they can’t bring two ILH teams to the state tournament.”
Saint Louis, meanwhile, marches on with another streak in mind — a fourth straight HHSAA Open Division state championship.
“These kids know what it takes to win a game. It’s four quarters and all that kind of stuff,” Lee said. “You could be up 21 at the half but you gotta play another half. Things didn’t go right but nonetheless, they hung in there. They played together.”