Hawaiian Electric Game of the Week
Saint Louis holds off Punahou for league title


Fri, Nov 1, 2019 @ Aloha Stadium [ 6:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
PUN(10-2-0) 0 0 14 014
STL(12-1-0) 7 7 7 021

HALAWA — Top-ranked Saint Louis took care of business against No. 2 Punahou Friday and gave itself another week of rest in preparation for a potential fourth straight Open Division state crown.

Jayden de Laura passed for 355 yards and ran in two touchdowns, including the game-winning score, to lead the Crusaders (10-0) to their fifth consecutive Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship with a 21-14 win over the Buffanblu (10-2) before a crowd of about 6,000 fans at Aloha Stadium.

Saint Louis tallied 278 of its 424 yards of total offense by halftime en route to its 36th straight victory, dating back to the 2016 season.

The win also dashed Punahou's chances of its first league crown since 2014. The Buffanblu needed a win over the Crusaders to force a winner-take-all rematch next Friday for the overall ILH title.

Instead, Saint Louis will have three weeks off until it meets Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up Mililani in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank State Championships on Nov. 22.

"It feels great, but we're not done yet," said de Laura, a senior quarterback and Washington State-commit.

Unlike the previous time the teams faced off — when Punahou's Vincent Terrell returned the opening kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown — it was the Crusaders who came out with a hot start Friday.

After the Buffanblu punted away on the game's first possession, Saint Louis drove 70 yards in seven plays, capped by a 22-yard TD run by de Laura on a quarterback draw.

"We kind of worked on it this past week and we knew how (the Buffanblu) were going to set up (defensively), so we had it perfected," said de Laura, who extended the drive five plays prior to the scoring play with his 14-yard completion to Matthew Sykes to convert a third-and-8.

Lason Napuunoa tacked on the extra point to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead with 5:35 left in the first quarter.

Punahou went three-and-out on its next three drives before Saint Louis doubled up its lead with 6:01 left until halftime on Koali Nishigaya's 4-yard TD run on an option play to the left on third-and-1.

"We called that option and we had to read that end," de Laura said. "He came upfield, so I kind of faked it and I told Koali at practice to just keep up with me, so the linebacker came and I just pitched it right back out to (Nishigaya)."

De Laura completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive: a 16-yard hook-up with Roman Wilson, a 12-yard connection with Nishigaya and a 21-yard pitch-and-catch to Wilson.

Not long after the Saint Louis score, Vincent appeared to get the Buffanblu on the board when he went untouched on a 52-yard touchdown run down the right sideline, however, it was negated due to a holding penalty.

Saint Louis took a 14-0 lead into the break.

Punahou turned the tide in a matter of minutes in the third quarter, however. John-Keawe Sagapolutele found Raydan Kiaaina-Caires for a 5-yard TD pass to cap a nine-play, 64-yard drive that included a costly 15-yard personal foul against the Crusaders for a face mask penalty.

After Quinn Maretzki added the PAT, the Saint Louis offense went three-and-out. Terrell's 14-yard punt return gave the Buffanblu possession at the Saint Louis 34.

On the very next play, Sagapolutele tossed a 25-yard completion to Kiaaina-Caires in the right seam to set-up first-and-goal and three plays later — on third down — Sagapolutele fired a 6-yard scoring strike to Koa Eldredge. Maretzki knocked through the extra point to tie it at 14-all with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter.

But there was no worry on the Crusader sideline.

"We just said ‘stay calm because we're built for moments like these,' and we just really came back and did our thing," said defensive end Sonny Masaniai, who had two of his team's seven tackles for loss, including one of their three sacks.

It was much the same sentiment with the offensive players, de Laura said.

"We just told each other that ‘we gotta fight through this. You know, this is not the end of the game. This is where champions are built,' " de Laura said.

The Saint Louis defense did its part and forced another Punahou three-and-out before de Laura got back to work.

The Crusaders got the ball back with 1:22 left in the third quarter at their own 46-yard line. On the first play of the drive, de Laura threw a 6-yard completion to Nishigaya. After a 5-yard run by Mason Taliulu to pick-up a first down, de Laura threw a 31-yard pass to Sykes to set-up his own 12-yard TD run on another quarterback draw.

"Same play as the first one," de Laura said. "Exact same play."

That score, on the final play of the third quarter, reclaimed the lead for good for Saint Louis.

Punahou went three-and-out yet again to open the fourth quarter. It later put together a 12-play drive that was aided by a 15-yard penalty against Saint Louis for illegal participation, but was forced to punt away from its own 42-yard line.

Saint Louis began its final possession with 5:06 left on the clock at its own 16-yard line. Ten plays into the drive — facing a fourth-and-5 at the Punahou 41 — the Crusaders called for a timeout before de Laura threw a quick slant to Sykes for a 27-yard pick-up.

"We kind of knew that they were going to expect a run, so we kind of played it off, like let them stuff the box and I told Matt to take it to three, cut his route short and get across and it was gonna be open. We just gotta finish that and catch it hopefully, and he did so that was great," said de Laura, who finished 22-of-32 passing with one interception.

Saint Louis eventually turned it over on downs at the Buffanblu 17-yard line to give Punahou the ball back with eight seconds to play. Sagapolutele completed a short pass to Kiaaina-Caires in the left flat to leave a few seconds on the clock. However, his last-ditch deep pass for Christopher Paige fell incomplete on the final play of the game.

"I'm kind of fortunate — lucky — in the sense that I called it, but I figured this is our shot, you know what I mean? And I liked the play, which was a pass play and everything," Lee said of the de Laura-to-Sykes completion. "We had a chance and thank the Lord for making it happen."

Lee said he felt comfortable keeping the ball in the hands of his senior quarter.

"That's right. With him with the ball we can always do some other things besides throw it, he could run the ball and all that," Lee said.

Wilson posted seven receptions for 145 yards, Sykes recorded five grabs for 109 yards and Nishigaya chipped in six catches for 62 yards.

Saint Louis played without one of its top defensive players, outside linebacker and Wisconsin-commit Nicholas Herbig, who was suspended for the game due to an off-campus incident.

Lawaia Brown finished with a team-high 7 1/2 tackles and Brian Cox added seven stops in the win.

"We really came together and we just worked as a team," Masaniai said. "I mean, this is all we prepared for. We always condition hard and we always push each other to do the best we can and we just came through tonight; everyone played together as a team."

Punahou was held to 158 yards of total offense in the loss, well below their season average of nearly 309 yards per game entering Friday. Terrell, who came into the game with 967 rushing yards on the year, was held to 11 yards on nine carries. Eldredge had nine catches for 64 yards, Kiaaina-Caires added seven grabs for 47 yards and Sagapolutele finished 24-of-40 passing with one interception for 159 yards through the air.

"We knew they had an offense that could run and pass, so we're fortunate that we could keep them to just two scores," said Lee, the winningest prep coach in state history.

Legend Matautia posted a game-high 9 1/2 tackles and Tevarua Tafiti had two of the five sacks recorded by the Buffanblu, whose only two losses on the season both came at the hands of the Crusaders by a combined 13 points.

"These kids know what it takes to win a game," Lee said of his team. "They know it's four quarters and all that kind of stuff. You know, you can be up 21 (points) at the half, but you gotta play another half. Things didn't go right, but nonetheless, they hung in there, stayed together and we're fortunate with where we're at."

It was the Crusaders' first game action since Oct. 11, when it concluded the regular season with a 56-26 win at Waianae.

Punahou, which was coming off of a 47-20 win over No. 15 Kamehameha last week, fell short of qualifying for the state tournament for the third straight year.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].




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