Since its inauguration in 2016, the HHSAA Open Division has known no other winner than Saint Louis.
The Crusaders made history by winning their third consecutive state title with a 38-17 rout over Mililani that was not as close as the scoreboard indicated.
Saint Louis (11-0) racked up 444 yards of total offense. Defenders were flying all over the field, never giving Trojan quarterback Dillon Gabriel room to breathe. It was clearly the most dominating win for the Crusaders during their current state title streak after two straight competitive games with Kahuku.
The scary part? Next year’s team could be even better.
The Crusaders will surely miss the presence, leadership and consistency of captains Faatui Tuitele, Arasi Mose, Junior Wily and Gino Quinones but project to return a core that contributed heavily to coach Cal Lee’s 18th total state crown.
The linebacker tandem of Nick Herbig and Jordan Botelho was absolutely menacing on Saturday night. Both are juniors.
Herbig sacked Gabriel four times and finished with five tackles for loss and six tackles. He also blocked a punt and returned it for a 5-yard touchdown.
“It feels amazing, man. Playing for coach Lee, he’s the greatest coach of all time. Just following in everybody’s footsteps and living up to the hype, it feels amazing, man. Unreal,” Herbig said. “I always dreamed of this — playing in front of everyone in the state championship, I’m just speechless. It feels amazing.”
Botelho racked up 2.5 tackles for loss to finish with six total tackles. His 74-yard scoop-and-score killed any hopes of a Mililani rally and extended the Saint Louis lead to 38-10 with 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
“It’s amazing. It’s just a blessing, honestly. We all deserve it, we all work hard and we’re all just blessed for that,” he said. “It’s great. “We work hard and we just come out and play hard and it feels great. I feel proud and I do this for my family and I’m just grateful for this.”
Both beamed about the other when asked, and the chemistry off the field seems as solid as it was against the Trojans.
“Nick, he’s great. He’s a baller. Me and him, I don’t know. It’s something special,” Botelho said. “That’s my boy and I love him. Just greatness.”
The feeling is mutual for Herbig, who sees the potential for the 2019 Crusaders to be special.
“Jordan’s my boy and he’s a baller and we got a lot of players coming back,” Herbig said. “We’re gonna be real good next year, too.”
Stanley McKenzie will return to hold it down for the defensive line, and ball hawk Kamo’i Latu should be back as well.
An underclassman Saint Louis fans can expect to emerge as a playmaker next year? Mason Tufaga, a backup linebacker for the 2018 team who produced when his number was called. The sophomore already holds offers from Hawaii, Utah and Oregon State. His father, Wes, is an assistant on the Crusaders’ coaching staff and played collegiately for the Utes. Mason’s older brother, Isaiah, recently finished his freshman season for the Beavers.
On offense, Jayden de Laura, another junior, passed for 251 yards on 19-of-30 passing. Although he struggled at times with two interceptions while getting sacked four times, he became the first starting quarterback to win a state title for Saint Louis as an underclassman since Timmy Chang in 1998. de Laura also returns his top target in Roman Wilson, who had seven receptions for 148 yards.
Lee says he hasn’t and will not give any thoughts toward next year’s team for the time being. But among the rising seniors, four in a row is attainable.
“I feel we’ll do good,” Wilson said. “I feel if we work hard and do the same things we’ve been doing, I think we’ll have a good season.”