Saint Louis’ epic win over Kahuku one to remember
STEVEN ERLER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
Saint Louis receiver Jonah Panoke made the game-winning 53-yard touchdown catch by pulling the ball from Kahuku defensive back Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu during the final seconds of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championship game at Aloha Stadium.
It was 1:04 a.m. Sunday at Aloha Stadium and not a single person out of the 22,436 in attendance sounded tired.
Whether it was the euphoric jubilation from the Saint Louis side or the collective groan let out by the Kahuku faithful, nobody missed the final play of another epic showdown between Hawaii’s two prep football Goliaths.
For the eighth time in the 18-year history of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships, Kahuku and Saint Louis met in the final game of the season.
Unlike five of the seven previous duels that went Kahuku’s way, this one ended with Saint Louis, on a 53-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds remaining from a pair of University of Hawaii commits, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro and receiver Jonah Panoke, raising the koa trophy following a 31-28 victory.
“It feels awfully good for the boys,” said Saint Louis coach Cal Lee, who added his third state title to a collection that includes 14 Prep Bowl victories. “Unfortunately one has to lose and I know who I want to win. Just so happy for the players.”
The Crusaders’ fifth state championship overall wasn’t complete until Kahuku quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava’s last throw bounced off the turf inside the 5-yard line, making Saint Louis the fourth team in history to win consecutive state titles and ending the final game of a tripleheader that kicked off at 9:58 p.m. Saturday instead of the scheduled 8 p.m.
Maiava threw three touchdown passes in the second half after Kahuku fell behind 24-7 on Isaiah Tufaga’s 40-yard interception return for a score.
Saint Louis (10-0), which finished with the ninth undefeated season in school history and first since 1996, forced a Kahuku punt with less than a minute to go to get the ball back down 28-24.
On the first play after a Mitchell Quinn punt return of 13 yards to the Saint Louis 47, Cordeiro threw a deep ball to his teammate since the second grade.
Panoke, who had caught only one touchdown all year, jumped over Kahuku defensive back Alex Fonoimoana-Vaomu and ripped the ball from the defender’s grasp to make it into the end zone for the game winner.
“We knew we only had about 35 seconds left and Chev told me, ‘we gotta make a play and this is how we win,’” said Panoke, who caught eight passes for 152 yards. “Coach called Z-9, and I knew it was my time to step up.”
The throw capped a marvelous senior season for Cordeiro, who spent the previous two years backing up now-Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.
In his one year as the primary catalyst of offensive coordinator Ron Lee’s run and shoot offense, Cordeiro was masterful, throwing for 3,130 yards and 29 touchdowns with another 10 TD’s on the ground.
He finished 30-for-44 for 440 yards and three scores against Kahuku to become the first quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season while attempting fewer than 300 throws.
Of the 10 players to surpass 3,000 yards, only McKenzie Milton, who is 10-0 as the starter at Central Florida this season, has a better completion percentage than Cordeiro (67.5 percent).
“(Cordeiro) is a great QB,” Maiava said. “I go up against my defense every day and the way he was scrambling and making plays on his feet, it shows a lot of heart in him.”
Kahuku’s only loss this season came against No. 10 nationally ranked Bingham (Utah) in September without an injured Maiava at QB.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore, who has worked to give the Red Raiders (11-2) a passing game element in their offense they haven’t had in a long time, threw four touchdown passes against a Crusaders defense that had held every other Hawaii opponent to 23 points or fewer.
His 59-yard strike down the right sideline to another sophomore, Kaonohi Kaniho, with 6:25 remaining gave Kahuku its first lead since late in the first quarter at 28-24.
“(The comeback) showed that we have heart and character and I’m really proud of my team,” Kahuku coach Makoa Freitas said. “Proud of the way they fought until the very end.”
Saint Louis drove to the Kahuku 2 on its ensuing possession when a tipped pass was picked off by Nalu Emerson in the end zone with 2:35 remaining.
The Red Raiders had a chance to end the game on offense and Maiava made a perfect throw to Kaniho for 10 yards on third-and-5 to move the chains.
However, Kahuku twice ran out of bounds to stop a clock it was trying to run out. With less than two minutes to go, the Red Raiders ran the ball three straight times and punted it away with 58 seconds left.
By the time it got the ball back following Cordeiro’s third TD pass of the night, it was too late.
“It’s football. Gotta be a winner and gotta be a loser,” said Maiava, who was 17-for-28 for 252 yards and added a game-high 94 rushing yards. “I’m glad we didn’t lose by giving up and putting our heads down. We lost with our heads high and kept fighting. That’s how I like to lose. No one likes to lose, especially like that.”
Quinn gave the Crusaders their first lead at 14-7 with a state-tournament record 95-yard touchdown catch from Cordeiro in the second quarter.
Cordeiro was intercepted on his first throw of the game and sacked three times on Saint Louis’ first three drives. Each sack came on an all-out blitz by the Kahuku defense, which had only three sacks the rest of the game.
“I think that long bomb Mitchell had, I think it really stopped (Kahuku),” Cordeiro said. “They were playing one-on-one and bump (coverage). I think that’s what made them stop.”
Quinn, who had five receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, totaled 448 receiving yards and seven TDs in Saint Louis’ two state tournament wins.
Cordeiro threw for 968 yards and eight TDs in his last two games.
“Holy crud, that last play where Jonah caught the ball, I was just on cloud nine right there. To end the season on a high note, I’m just really glad,” Quinn said. “We were down with a minute left, and it was just crunch time. Game time. Coming out with a ‘W,’ it just feels great.”