No. 1 Saint Louis posts late rally to edge No. 2 Kahuku, 31-28
HALAWA — For at least another season, the chase for the championship will once again go through Kalaepohaku.
Jonah Panoke caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Chevan Cordeiro with thirty seven seconds left to lift No. 1 Saint Louis to a thrilling 31-28 win over No. 2 Kahuku in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I-Open State Championship Saturday night — well, mostly.
In a game that ended at 1:04 a.m., a crowd of 22,436 fans at Hawaiian Tel FCU Field at Aloha Stadium saw the Crusaders (10-0) twice overcome deficits against the Red Raiders (11-2) to hang on to the state crown for a second straight year.
The win marked the fifth state championship for Saint Louis and its ninth unbeaten season in school history.
"Just to bring it back and play a well-coached and a talented Kahuku team, it feels great. It's such a blessing," said linebacker Noa Purcell, who finished with a game-high 11 tackles and sealed the win for the Crusaders with his pass break-up near the goal line on the game's final play.
Each team appeared to seize control at different points of the night. Saint Louis scored 24 straight points to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 17-point lead. Kahuku, in turn, answered with string of 21 consecutive points — all coming on Sol-Jay Maiava touchdown passes.
Ultimately, it was the Crusaders who made one more play in crunch time and Panoke, a 6-foot senior wide receiver, played the role of hero.
Saint Louis got the ball back at their own 47-yard line, trailing Kahuku 28-24 with 46 seconds left. But despite a clock stoppage for the change of possession, Lee called for his third and final timeout of the half before Cordeiro and the offense even ran a play on the series.
One could say it worked out.
Out of the timeout, Cordeiro targeted Panoke, who was aligned wide to the right of the formation. The pass was slightly underthrown, but Panoke — against one-on-one coverage — managed to snatch the ball away from the defensive back just before crossing the goal line.
"I was thinking that I just had to make a big play. I dropped two deep balls earlier, so I knew I had to step up and do something," said Panoke. "Chev told me that we only had thirty-five seconds left and we had to make a big play and so he told me, ‘You know, bro, we need you,' and we had faith in each other."
Cordeiro said he knew pre-snap that he was going to go Panoke's way.
"It was balance. The X and Z (receivers) were running nines and they told me to chose one receiver and I chose Jonah," Cordeiro said. "I just threw it up and I just believed in him and he got the touchdown."
After Jacob Tobias tacked on the extra point, Kahuku benefitted from a 37-yard return by Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu on the ensuing kickoff and started its final possession from its own 40.
Maiava moved the Red Raiders all the way down to the Saint Louis 30, but his pass intended for Enoch Nawahine was batted away by Purcell as the clock ran out.
"The communication was kind of late, so I made a strength call and I dropped under Enoch and our d-line put pressure on Sol-Jay and he threw it up and I just had to make a play," Purcell said.
Saint Louis allowed four TD passes by Maiava — who finished 17-of-28 passing for 252 yards — but made his one turnover count.
About midway through the third quarter, Maiava was intercepted by safety Isaiah Tufaga, who returned it for a 40-yard pick-6 that gave his team a 24-7 lead.
"I was just straight reading the quarterback's eyes and breaking on the ball and just making a play for my teammates, and that's all I did," said Tufaga, an Oregon State-commit.
It was soon after Tufaga's score that Kahuku began to turn the tide back in its favor.
Wesley-Alo Maiava's 23-yard touchdown reception from Maiava came with 2:52 left in the third and capped a six-play, 80-yard drive. After the Crusaders turned it over on downs, Kahuku orchestrated a six-play, 57-yard drive that culminated with a 6-yard Maiava-to-Toalei Lefau TD pass early in the fourth to pull the Red Raiders to within 24-21.
Saint Louis' next possession also ended in a turnover, this one in the form of a Cordeiro fumble. It was forced by Lauina Falatea and recovered by Feso Malufau to give Kahuku the ball back with 6:50 to play. On the very next play, Maiava connected with Kaonohi Kaniho for a 59-yard score that gave his team a 28-24 lead with 6:25 remaining.
The Crusaders drove to the Kahuku 2-yard line on their ensuing drive, but Cordeiro was intercepted by Jared Emerson in the end zone for a touchback.
However, the Crusaders held on defense and forced Kahuku to punt from its own 29-yard line in the game's final minute.
"I want to thank my teammates," said Cordeiro, a Hawaii-commit. "They picked me up, they believed in me and they just told me, ‘I was the best QB in the state,' and I just want to thank them. Without them I wouldn't have got this far."
Mitchell Quinn's punt return of 13 yards set up the Cordeiro-to-Panoke go-ahead score.
"It's a blessing. First and foremost, all glory to God for this gracious win and we're just so happy for all our alumni and all our fans and all our families," said Tufaga, who finished with seven tackles.
Lee said it took everything his team had to gut it out.
"Kahuku is a good football team," said Lee, the winningest prep coach in state history.
"It's really too bad that somebody's got to lose because it could have gone either way, but you play four quarters and, you know, we had a few seconds left and we managed to pull it out. I feel awfully good for the kids."
Cordeiro finished with 440 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-44 passing. He was intercepted twice. He also rushed for a team-high 19 yards on 20 carries — due in large part to Kahuku's six sacks that resulted in a 51 yards lost.
"They were bringing the house. They were pretty much blitzing everybody," Cordeiro said.
"We had put another blocker in, but when you bring seven and we had six, the math doesn't work, but for him to stick in there and scramble, I mean, wow," Lee said of the senior quarterback.
Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas said the defensive game plan was to clamp down on Cordeiro, who was coming off a stellar semifinal win over Mililani last week in which he threw for 528 yards, ran for another 104 and accounted for six total TDs.
"We wanted to show him pressure and see if he could stay in the pocket and take a couple of hits and make some throws. We got there a couple times, a couple times we didn't," Freitas said.
Panoke finished with eight receptions for a game-high 152 yards.
"Jonah is a hell of a receiver," Lee said. "He's got sure hands, he's got good height, good extension and he made one of those plays. I mean, you never know what can happen, but for him to make it, I feel happy for him."
Mitchell Quinn had five catches for 131 yards, including first-half touchdown receptions of 11 and 95 yards. Chance Beyer added nine grabs for 96 yards for the Crusaders, who finished with 459 yards of total offense.
Kahuku opened the scoring just 62 seconds into the contest. Two plays after Cordeiro was intercepted by Fonoimoana-Vaomu, Maiava hit Thorton Alapa for a 5-yard TD pass.
"It was a good game. It was close, but it's one of those things, you know, it's unfortunate but someone has to win and someone has to lose," Freitas said.
Maiava also rushed for a game-high 94 yards on 14 carries and Nawahine added 19 rushes for 67 yards.
"At the end of the day we all had to play with heart and that's what we did. We never let the scoreboard discourage us."
Jacob Tobias converted a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter and made all four of his PATs.
Saint Louis led at halftime, 14-7.
The game was a rematch of the last two state finals. Kahuku won in 2015, 39-14, and Saint Louis avenged the loss in 2016, 30-14.
The Red Raiders were seeking their ninth state title.