Football
Late-game heroics help Saint Louis hold off upset-minded Mililani


  



Sat, Dec 18, 2021 @ Farrington [ 7:00 pm ]


Final 1 2 3 4 T
MIL(5-3-0) 0 14 3 825
STL(6-4-0) 7 3 14 327

KALIHI — The drive for five remains alive. 

Lason Napuunoa made a 38-yard field goal with five minutes and 46 seconds left and Kawaihinano Kalaukoa made a couple of key defensive plays down the stretch to help No. 2 Saint Louis escape with a 27-25 win over No. 4 Mililani Saturday night. 

After a lengthy six-week layoff since their last game, the Crusaders (6-3) fought off some rust — and a valiant effort from the Trojans (5-3) — to secure a return trip to the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championships Thursday night at Farrington's Edward ‘Skippa' Diaz Stadium at Kusunoki Field. 

Saint Louis came back from a deficit twice against Mililani Saturday, in the nightcap of a semifinal doubleheader at Farrington. 

The Trojans pulled within 24-23 with 6:57 to play after Nehemiah Timoteo's 12-yard touchdown run and took a one-point lead after a successful two-point conversion that saw quarterback Emana Tarape end up on the receiving end of a pass from slotback Kapono Hookano-Sallas. 

The Crusaders got a 23-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Yosei Takahashi to start their possession at their own 36-yard line. Quarterback A.J. Bianco completed a pass to Jaysen Peters-de Laura for a 40-yard gain on the first play of the drive. However, a few plays later, they were faced with a fourth-and-6 and rather than keep the offense on the field, Napuunoa marched out for the 38-yard try — which he converted despite a steady headwind and wet conditions. 

Brian Bautista | SL    Purchase image

"I just had to know that I just had to make that game-winning kick," said Napuunoa, who had just missed a field goal (wide left) from 42 yards on his team's previous possession. 

"I just had to make up for that forty-two (yarder) and I'm sorry that I didn't make it, but I just want to thank God, I just want to thank the line for helping me make that kick — without them I wouldn't be making that," said Napuunoa, a senior placekicker and three-year varsity player. 

He expected to have a shot at redeeming himself — with the game on the line. 

"Of course, every game I think it's going to come down to me. I just had to think that ‘I'm gonna make this kick and I'm gonna be the hero,' " Napuunoa said. 

Napuunoa's 38-yard field goal was the longest of the five he's made this season. He also kicked a 24-yard field goal that cut Mililani's lead to 14-10 with 22 seconds left in the first half. 

"Lason, he's something special," said senior linebacker Iona Purcell. "He practices kicks every day at practice and it showed today when he kicked that field goal and he really made it up for us."

There was still enough time, however, for two more possessions for the Trojans. Their second-to-last drive reached midfield, but Tarape was intercepted on a fourth-and-12 play by Kalaukoa. 

After a Saint Louis three-and-out, Mililani got the ball back one last time with 1:17 to play. It picked up a pair of first downs — including a 21-yard pass from Tarape to Hookano-Sallas on fourth-and-16 — but eventually was left with three seconds on the clock from the Saint Louis 48-yard line. On the final play of the game, Tarape threw a pass deep over the middle that was short of the end zone and intended from Gavin Hunter, but it was batted away by Kalaukoa to secure the win for the Crusaders, who have won all four Open Division state titles since the HHSAA went to a three-tier classification system for football in 2016. 

"I'm just happy that we get to have another chance and that the young players, they can experience us going to the championship and earning that ring," Napuunoa said. 

After the Trojans posted 194 yards of total offense in the first half and held possession for more than seven minutes longer than the Crusaders did through the first two quarters, Purcell said that defensive coordinator Cal Lee challenged the defense at halftime. 

Brian Bautista | SL    Purchase image

"He told us that we just have to step it up and it's up to us to win the game," Purcell said. "I mean, the rain was coming down, the wind was coming and stuff, the offense couldn't really do much but they pulled through as well, but we had to come out strong at the end as well."

Amid challenging weather conditions, Saint Louis got an early boost from its special teams, when Blaze Holani blocked a Mililani punt that was recovered by Purcell in the end zone for a touchdown to open the scoring with 3:53 left in the first quarter. 

Mililani tied it at 7 early in the second quarter after Tarape connected with Hookano-Sallas for a 31-yard scoring strike to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Tarape's 43-yard TD pass to Raymond Roller gave his team a touchdown lead with 4:25 left in the second stanza. 

Napuunoa's 24-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half began a string of 17 consecutive points by the Crusaders, who pulled ahead, 17-14, on Bianco's 9-yard TD run nearly four minutes into the third quarter. Keola Apduhan scampered into the end zone from nine yards out to stretch it to a 24-14 Saint Louis lead with 2:59 until the fourth quarter. 

The Trojans made it a one-score game with Makel Paiva's 21-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the third quarter. 

Mililani threw for 221 of its 333 yards of total offense. Tarape finished 14-of-28 passing for 190 yards with two TDs and one interception. Timoteo carried 18 times for 106 yards and a score in defeat. 

Kalaukoa, Holland, Purcell and Noah Wily paced the Saint Louis defense with five tackles apiece. 

"Coming off that six-week break it was kind of hard for us, but every day, every week at practice we went at each other — eleven on eleven, full speed — just to get game-like situations; We were prepared, but on to the next," said Purcell, a junior linebacker. "We gotta work harder."

Now the Crusaders turn their sights to a familiar foe in the Red Raiders; the teams have met in three of the four Open Division state championship games since 2016. 

"Kahuku's a great team, we just have to come out strong next week as well and no mistakes — we had a ton of mistakes this game — but we just gotta come back better," Purcell said. 

Kamaehu Roman had a game-high seven tackles and one sack to lead the Mililani defense. 

The Oahu Interscholastic Association runner-up Trojans played without defensive starters Makanalea Meyer and Aidan Manutai, both of whom were out with injuries. 

Saint Louis was playing its first game since it wrapped up the Interscholastic League of Honolulu title with a 35-21 win over Kamehameha on Nov. 5. 

Kickoff between the second-seeded Crusaders and top-seed Kahuku is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday. It will follow the Division I championship game between Iolani and Lahainaluna, which is slated for a 3 p.m. start time. 



Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].




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