Saint Louis, Kahuku prepare for round 2
Saint Louis running back Malosi Sam (10) tries to shake off a Kahuku defender in the two teams' earlier season meeting. CJ Caraang | SL
If you missed the big show the first time around, Friday night is your second chance.
Fans will get to see another showing of the marquee matchup that headlined the football season the past three years when top-ranked Saint Louis squares off against No. 4 Kahuku at Hawaiian Financial FCU Field at Aloha Stadium in the semifinals of the 20th annual First Hawaiian Bank Open Division Football State Championships.
The two teams have competed against each other for the state title in the past three years, with the Crusaders winning the last two championships over the Red Raiders. They have also won a combined total of 13 state titles since the tournament started in 1999.
With the new OIA-ILH agreement in place this season, Saint Louis (9-0) and Kahuku (7-4) met up during the regular season in an interleague game on Sept. 7. The Crusaders built a 16-0 halftime lead and never look back as they handed the Red Raiders a 30-14 loss, their first of the season.
As much as the two teams have battled since the advent of the state tournament, Friday's contest will make it the first season that Saint Louis and Kahuku have met on the field a second time in a single year.
First-year Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said his team is "excited" to get another shot at the Crusaders, who has a 24-game win streak that dates back to 2016.
"This is the team that they have played against in three straight years, got knocked off by them the last two and lost the recent one in September. They're excited to get back to playing this team."
It will be the third straight rematch against an earlier season opponent that the Red Raiders will partake in. If history continues to repeat itself, expect Kahuku to make the game against Saint Louis much closer than their September meeting.
Kahuku avenged a 28-27 loss to Campbell with a 27-7 win over the Sabers in the league playoffs and lost to Mililani, 27-7, in the OIA championship, an improvement from a 38-10 homecoming loss to the Trojans.
Veteran Saint Louis coach Cal Lee expects nothing less from the Red Raiders.
"When you play someone the second time, it's an incentive for the team that lost," he said.
The Red Raiders have not played since the OIA title game on Nov. 2, but the Crusaders have had a longer layover with no games since their 45-21 ILH championship win over Punahou on Oct. 27.
"I think everybody is anxious," said Lee. "You try to keep them busy, but 3 weeks is a long break in between, no question. You do what you can do and prep them as best as you can."
As explosive as Saint Louis has been against opponents this season, its DNA offensively is a little different than years past.
With quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans and Tua Tagovailoa of the Alabama Crimson Tide coming through the program within the last decade, the Crusaders are known to be a premier passing team with their run-and-shoot offense. This year they have sprinkled more of a balanced attack and have scored more touchdowns on the ground than through the air, 27 to 21, with running backs Dayton "Malosi" Sam (65 carries, 427 yards, 6 TDs) and Robbie Paikai (50 carries, 316 yards, 7 TDs) shouldering the load.
"Watching the ILH championship game, they ran the ball effectively and often, that's what you don't really see with a typical Saint Louis team," said Carvalho. "That's really impressive and one dimension that they added this year that makes them scarier than years past."
Lee, who coordinates the defense while his brother Ron runs the offense, added that he likes the balanced effort on offense.
"It's been working," he said. "Ball control is always good."
Of course, it just gives his defense more time to rest before terrorizing opposing offenses. The Crusaders are holding opponents to 13.1 points per game and have scored 68 points on defense. They are also giving up just 17.1 rushing yards per game.
"That front seven is probably the best I've seen in quite a while, across the state. Usually you see that type of defense from Kahuku," Carvalho said.
Carvalho knows his team has to play a near-perfect game if they hope to come out on top against Saint Louis.
"We can't afford mistakes, we can't afford to come out slow the first two quarters. We have to be playing all four quarters and more or less mistake-free football. That's the only way we can beat the toughest team in the state."
Kickoff is slated for approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the 4:30 p.m. semifinal between Mililani and Campbell. The winner of both games will face off in the final game of a championship tripleheader on Saturday, Nov. 24.