Crusaders rally to deny Buffanblu's upset bid


Fri, Sep 20, 2019 @ Aloha Stadium [ 7:30 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
PUN(10-2-0) 7 9 0 319
STL(12-1-0) 6 0 13 625
Jayden de Laura 405 yd 2 TD
Koali Nishigaya 69 yd 2 TD
Roman Wilson 190 yd 2 TD
Koa Eldredge 112 yd 1 TD

HALAWA — Halloween may be more than a month away, but the state's top-ranked team got quite the scare Friday night.

Three-time defending Open Division state champion Saint Louis rallied from a 16-6 halftime deficit to squeeze out a 25-19 win over third-ranked Punahou in the nightcap of an Interscholastic League of Honolulu doubleheader at Aloha Stadium.

A crowd of about 2,500 fans saw the Crusaders (6-0 overall, 5-0 league) avoid their first loss since Sept. 29, 2016 and extend their win streak to 32 games. The Buffanblu (6-1, 4-1) suffered their first defeat of the season.

"The second half we made a little bit of an adjustment, but the first half, give credit to them," Saint Louis coach Cal Lee said of the Buffanblu, who recorded all five of their sacks on Crusaders' quarterback Jayden de Laura before halftime.

"They really put the pressure on Jayden — thankfully he can move around, he got away from a lot of the sacks and we were able to survive," said Lee, the winningest prep football coach in state history.

De Laura, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound senior, threw for a season-high 405 yards on 34-of-40 passing without an interception in the win. He tossed touchdown passes of 10 and 46 yards to Michigan-commit Roman Wilson, who finished with 11 receptions for 190 yards. UCLA-bound Matthew Sykes added nine catches for 131 yards.

The Crusaders trailed at halftime for the first time in a long time, but there was no sense of panic in the locker room.

"Same mood as always," Wilson said. "We knew we just had to go out there and we just had to continue to play football, so I wouldn't say it was any different from any other game."

The score was tied at 19 after Punahou's Quinn Maretzki knocked through a 29-yard field goal three plays into the fourth quarter.

Saint Louis took the lead for good on Koali Nishigaya's 4-yard TD run with 3:36 left to play. Nishigaya started at slotback (where he posted seven grabs for 38 yards), but closed out the game at running back.

"I really like him," Lee said of the 5-foot-6, 155-pound Nishigaya. "I mean, I think he can go to the next level, he's that kind of player, but people look at his size and they just think he's too small, but I think he's a helluva of a football player. I mean, he's not a lineman — he's a receiver — he's got good moves, he's got good speed, he's smart. I really like him, I really do."

Despite just seven carries — all of them coming after halftime — the senior finished with a game-high 69 yards rushing. He also scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter that cut the Buffanblu lead to 16-12.

"Koali is the man. He can do everything, it don't matter if he's small, he's the best slot out there. He shows up in big games," de Laura said.

However, the ensuing extra point was wide right and the Crusaders clung to a six-point lead.

Punahou got to the Saint Louis 39-yard line on on its final drive, but quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele had to leave the game for one play after he was slow to get up following a third-down sack. Ian Eveleth, who started the season as the team's third-string quarterback, threw a deep ball to Koa Eldredge along the left sideline on fourth-and-12, but his pass was overthrown and the Crusaders took over on downs and ran out the final two-plus minutes.

"I'm very proud of the kids, they played as well as they could," Buffanblu coach Kale Ane said. "Saint Louis is very deserving of all the accolades they've gotten and our kids stepped up to the challenge and challenged them really well."

Vincent Terrell returned the game's opening kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown to put Punahou ahead early.

Saint Louis got on the board with de Laura's 10-yard scoring strike to Wilson on a fourth-and-7 with 4:19 left in the first quarter.

"I saw the safety — the safety switched it off — so I waited for (Wilson) to pass by the safety and then I threw it," de Laura said of the TD pass.

Wilson added of his quarterback: "He did a good job of reading it and I think that's why he's the best in the state."

However, the PAT was blocked and the Buffanblu held on to a 7-6 lead until Sapolutele's 12-yard TD pass to Eldredge with about seven minutes left in the first half stretched it to a 13-6 advantage. The score came five plays after a Crusaders' fumble that was forced by Andrew Canonico and recovered by DJ Utu for Punahou.

"We tell our players all the time, I mean, you gotta play two halves. Our first half wasn't the greatest and you know, we haven't had too many turnovers for the last three or four games and then all of a sudden we got turnovers and you've got to react and respond to all the turnovers that we had and I think we kind of did that," Lee said.

Saint Louis lost four of its five fumbles on the night — all but one of them lost in the red zone.

"I mean, we just learned from our mistakes, we knew we just had to take care of the ball, we knew what we were doing wrong, so it was easy, just take care of the ball," de Laura said.

Maretzki's 30-yard field goal on the final play of the first half gave the Buffanblu a 10-point lead at the intermission.

The Crusaders outscored the Buffanblu 19-3 after halftime, including 13-0 in the third stanza. After Nishigaya's first TD run, the Saint Louis defense forced a three-and-out by Punahou and five plays later, Wilson got beat single coverage along the right sideline and pulled down high-arching 46-yard scoring pass from de Laura to give their team its first lead at 19-16.

"That was the adjustment," de Laura explained. "We were supposed to run an in (route) on that, but the way they were playing it, I told (Wilson) to fake that in and then take it up and he did that and it worked; he was wide open."

De Laura said the changes offensive coordinator Ron Lee implemented at halftime were simple.

"Our adjustment was just get the ball out of my hands, just gotta get it out fast. When I was holding on to the ball, that's when they were getting to me, so we kind of worked short stuff and just chipped away at it," de Laura said.

Sagapolutele, a freshman who was making his fifth career start since a season-ending knee injury to UPenn-commit Hugh Brady, finished with 245 yards on 27-of-43 passing without an interception.

Eldredge posted a game-high 14 catches for 112 yards in the loss.

Jarrin Sato made a game-high 9 1/2 tackles, Alakai Gilman had 8 1/2, Eli Thompson 7 1/2 and Legend Matautia 6 1/2 for the Buffanblu. Gilman also had a pair of fumble recoveries and Matautia recorded one of his team's five sacks.

"I just think our kids played with a lot of heart and courage and they never quit and against a great Saint Louis team that is ranked number eight in the country, it was great to see our kids play so well," Ane said.

Nicholas Herbig made a team-high seven tackles and recovered a fumble that led to the Crusaders' first score. Bredan Aniya had six tackles, Lawaialani Brown posted 5 1/2 stops and Jordan Botelho added five tackles and a sack in the win.

Saint Louis finished with 557 yards of total offense to Punahou's 275.

The Crusaders now turn their attention to next Friday's showdown against No. 2 Mililani, while the Buffanblu will visit fifth-ranked Campbell next Saturday.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].




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