What Have We Learned: Saint Louis can play a Grade A game, but until the loose ends are tied up, there is no complacency.
Oh, this isn’t about anything particularly unusual for any good high school football team. Most of the elite teams near and far have their strengths and a few weaknesses.
But Coach Cal Lee was beyond annoyed after his team’s latest win, technically the first official game of the season after several highly-competitive scrimmages. Moments after his Saint Louis Crusaders throttled a tremendously tough and physical Faga‘itua squad 55-6 on Friday at Aloha Stadium, he didn’t dwell on the many wondrous offensive plays by his team.
No. Trained as a high school and college linebacker, then a linebackers coach, head coach of a high school dynasty, then college (UH) linebackers coach and now, a high school head coach again, Lee doesn’t usually see a game — not immediately afterward, at least — as a triumph of any sort. Not in mid or late August. And especially not in a nonleague game.
On Friday night, Coach Lee was miffed about the internal, not the external. The Crusaders’ special teams wasn’t quite special in Lee’s eyes. The offense? Absolutely special. But the kicking game has room to improve. Permitting a PAT kick to be blocked. When I examined video later, it became more understandable. The block came from an interior defensive lineman. A defensive player who clips the pigskin from a speed rush off the edge is one thing. But right up the gut? Uncommon and, for Lee, unacceptable.
And then there was the start of the second half, when Faga‘itua recovered an on-side kick right in the middle of the hash marks. Now, the benefit of replay allowed me to see that it was a blown call. The Vikings made contact with the ball well before the 10-yard mark, and it should’ve been called dead. But Lee’s concern is about security. And he does not feel secure about his special teams right now.
With a defensive unit that is still in the formative stage — uber-talented but developing — the guru of Kalaepohaku knows he can’t afford to have a decided edge in only one of the game’s three major components. Dick Tomey, during his years at UH and well beyond, always stressed the need to win at least two of the three — offense, defense and special teams.
Maybe nit-picking after a 55-6 win seems unnecessary. For Lee, it’s not that. It’s in his blood, this drive for improvement and perfection. All those ILH and Prep Bowl and state titles are just a byproduct. A cherished byproduct.
It’s less about singling out a player (or players) who fail to execute in an area that could potentially win or lose a state-championship game. It’s more about welding over the pukas of what needs to be an absolutely impenetrable fortress. No weak links in this chain.
Just a hunch, but I don’t think those kicking-game issues will last very long.