Saint Louis managed to survive without its starting quarterback on Friday, although the Crusaders’ 20th consecutive win wasn’t secure until the clock hit :00.
With quarterback Jayden de Laura sidelined, the Saint Louis defense helped stake the top-ranked Crusaders to a 23-0 lead on Kapolei in an OIA-ILH Open Division matchup on the West side. But the defending state champions ended up having to sweat out the final seconds before a walk-off sack by Jordan Botelho and Stanley McKenzie finished off a 30-22 victory.
“The bottom line is we got by,” Saint Louis coach Cal Lee said. “(Kapolei’s) a good football team. They have a good passing game, they scored on us a couple times and I have to give them credit. They never gave up, they kept battling all the way to the end until the clock hit zero.”
De Laura had started Saint Louis’ first four games and warmed up prior to Friday’s game despite a sore shoulder. He threw for 293 yards and a touchdown with four interceptions and ran for two scores in last week’s 35-28 win over Punahou. Lee said de Laura could have played on Friday, but sophomore Connor Apo, who had completed three of six passes for 55 yards in three appearances this season, was given his first start.
“It’s a physical game and kids are going to get banged up, they’re going to get hurt,” Lee said. “But (Apo) had a good chance to show his stuff and it was good experience for him.”
Apo completed 18 of 27 attempts for 135 yards, most coming on short to intermediate routes. Slot receiver Koali Nishigaya made 10 catches for 80 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown on Saint Louis’ opening possession, with a long of 29.
With Saint Louis up 30-14 in the fourth quarter, freshman Alexander Bianco and senior Chandan Sappai rotated on the Crusaders’ final two possessions.
“It comes with experience,” Lee said. “(Apo) just went in there to start the game, I’m sure he’s a little nervous. He just needs more practice and more playing time and he’ll get better.”
Saint Louis’ defense took some pressure off of Apo with three takeaways in Kapolei’s first four possessions to contribute to a 17-0 halftime lead. Kamo’i Latu intercepted Noa Bailey’s first pass of the game, Nick Herbig came up with a strip sack at the Kapolei 15 on the first play of the second quarter and Lawai’alani Brown came up with a pick.
Special teams contributed when Micah Tupua lined up in punt formation on fourth-and-11 and took off for a 12-yard gain. Three plays later, Dayton Sam was in the end zone with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Despite a turnover to begin the third quarter, the Crusaders appeared well in control when Junior Wily returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown to increase the gap to 23-0.
But Kapolei sophomore quarterback Christian Rapis sparked the Hurricanes off the bench, connecting with receiver De’zhaun Stribling on three completions totaling 128 yards (57, 43, 28) to set up two touchdown runs by Ezekiel Waiolama.
Herbig appeared to squelch Kapolei’s upset hopes with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown, but Rapis 37-yard touchdown pass to Sheldon Mcleod and 2-point conversion throw to Stribling brought the Hurricanes within a possession with 16 seconds left.
Kapolei got one more shot after recovering a well-executed onside kick. Micah Fonoti tapped the ball up the middle and Tyger Fa’avi emerged from the scramble with the ball at the Saint Louis 45.
But after an incomplete pass, Botelho and McKenzie wrapped up Rapis to end the game.
“We started the game strong and we had to finish it strong,” said Botelho, who had a sack for a loss of 16 yards in the second quarter to derail the Hurricanes after they’d driven to the Saint Louis 23.
Rapis threw for 229 yards off the bench, but Saint Louis ended the night with four interceptions and the touchdowns by Wily and Herbig were too much to overcome.
“The defense did a great job, they played well,” Kapolei coach Darren Hernandez said. “We’re consistent quarterback play away from being really good.
“(Bailey and Rapis) both played well in spots, both played poorly in spots. They’re young and inexperienced and hopefully we get that cleaned up.”