Saint Louis throttles Kahuku for fourth straight championship
HALAWA — Saint Louis collected its four of a kind Friday night.
Jayden de Laura passed for 280 yards, rushed for another 75 and accounted for three touchdowns to lead top-ranked Saint Louis to a one-sided 45-6 win over No. 3 Kahuku in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championships.
A crowd of 11,597 at Aloha Stadium saw the top-seeded Crusaders conclude the season with a perfect 12-0 record for their third straight undefeated campaign and fourth consecutive state title.
The second-seeded Red Raiders completed the year at 9-4.
"I'm happy for them," said Saint Louis coach Cal Lee, the state's winningest prep coach. "I mean, you can't be more proud of the guys who worked three years in a row. It's a credit to them, they didn't take one day off, they kept working year after year after year. I mean, I give them a lot of credit for what they did."
Saint Louis posted 409 yards of total offense and held Kahuku to just 57 rushing yards and 120 in all.
"Shout out to all my boys, man. My boys came out and balled, man; they came out and balled. I'm really proud of them," said linebacker Nicholas Herbig, who finished with six total tackles, including 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks.
Seven different Crusaders combined for nine sacks on Kahuku quarterbacks. Linebacker Jordan Botelho had 1 1/2 sacks and tied for a game-high with 6 1/2 tackles.
Saint Louis racked up 18 total tackles for loss and limited Red Raiders' standout running back Zealand Matagi to 79 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown.
"Coach Cal wanted to line up all of us right on the line and keep our stud ‘backers free — Lawaia (Brown), Mason (Tufaga) — keep them free so they can make plays all night and that's what they did so I'm proud of those guys, everybody did their job tonight," said Herbig, who closed out the scoring with a 96-yard interception return for touchdown with 5:09 left to play.
It took the Crusaders just two plays into the game to score the game's first points.
After a Jayden de Laura incompletion on first down, the senior quarterback fired a rope down the right sideline that hit wide receiver Roman Wilson in stride and went for an 86-yard touchdown on the pass play.
"The safety didn't get over — I think he was looking at Koali (Nishigaya) — and I just made a good play. That's all I had to do, I just had to make a good move off the line and run," said Wilson, who finished with eight receptions for 171 yards.
Wilson noted that it was a simple matter of reading what the defense presented.
"We just look and see what they're giving us and if the safety was to get me then the ball would have went to Koali, but the safety got Koali so I was open," Wilson said.
Lee said the early score gave his team an early cushion, but he was keen to ensure there was no let down to follow.
"Well, I mean, you're happy we scored, but I mean, the game just started. It's never over after you score, so we were very fortunate we scored early and we were able to play pretty good defense," Lee said.
De Laura picked up 50 yards on a scramble three plays into Saint Louis' second possession and on the very next play, Koali Nishigaya punched it into the end zone on a 6-yard run. The Crusaders used their heavy package with three tight ends, including Herbig, to pave the way for Nishigaya on the TD run.
Kahuku gave the ball to Matagi on seven of eight plays on its ensuing drive, which was capped by his 38-yard TD run on third-and-4. He broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
"Coach Cal just told us that we gotta wrap up and stop trying to leave our feet and make the big hit, just wrap up and make the straight tackle," Herbig said.
The extra point was blocked by the Crusaders' Stanley McKenzie and Saint Louis clung to a 14-6 lead with eight seconds left in the first quarter.
The Red Raiders appeared to get even closer just a few plays later, when Peter John Mataira intercepted a de Laura pass and returned it down the left sideline for an apparent 84-yard pick-six. However, an illegal block penalty on the return took the score off the board and forced Kahuku to start its drive at its own 40-yard line instead.
Kahuku went for it on fourth-and-1 and appeared to convert the first down on a Matagi run. However, Lee challenged the spot of the football and the call on the field of a first down was overturned, which resulted in a turnover on downs and Saint Louis regaining possession near midfield.
"That was big," Lee said of the successful coaches challenge. "We were very fortunate, but from my view — I mean, I'm a little prejudice — it looked like he didn't make it. It's tough, I mean, you're on the sideline trying to see something over there, I mean, it's tough, so why not? You know, why not challenge it and from my angle it looked like he didn't make it."
The Saint Louis offense made good on the opportunity as five plays later, Nishigaya scored his second touchdown on the half on a 3-yard run off left tackle. Lason Napuunoa tacked on the extra point to make it a 21-6 lead with 7:05 left in the second quarter.
Wilson said it was important that the offense capitalize on the turnover on downs.
"Throwing that challenge flag means we're confident and since we got it (overturned), we just had to go out there and prove why we challenged it and come out there and score points off of it," said Wilson, a University of Michigan-commit.
The Crusaders made it a 28-6 advantage on a 3-yard quarterback sneak by de Laura with 3:08 remaining until halftime.
After a Kahuku three-and-out, Saint Louis orchestrated an eight-play drive that culminated with a 35-yard field goal by Napuunoa on the final play of the first half.
Saint Louis took a 31-6 lead into the intermission and built upon that with a seven-play, 62-yard drive that was highlighted by a 13-yard TD run by de Laura on a quarterback draw up the middle. The Washington State-commit followed the block of his offense linemen before leaping for the final few yards and stretching the ball across the goal line for the touchdown.
Napuunoa added the PAT to stretch it to a 38-6 lead with 8:01 left in the third quarter.
The score held until Herbig's pick off of reserve quarterback Jason Mariteragi and long return for the game's lone defensive score.
"I was thinking in my head before the play, ‘I hope they throw this out (route) because I'm going to jump it,' " Herbig said. "I jumped it and all I saw was a touchdown and I was like, ‘I need to get in there,' so I was gone."
It is the seventh state championship for Saint Louis, which remains the only school to capture the Open Division state crown since its inception in 2016.
"We try to instill in them the fact that it doesn't matter what happened six weeks, seven weeks ago, who you're playing, I mean, you gotta be ready to play. I mean, that's our goal, is to show up and play football, you know, hard football," said Lee, who has five state championships in addition to 14 Oahu Prep Bowl titles in his decorated coaching career.
It was Saint Louis' largest margin of victory in a state championship game and their fourth win over Kahuku in a title game.
"It's unbelievable," said Herbig, a University of Wisconsin-commit. "I'm so blessed to be in this position. Not many people get to experience going to states alone and I'm just blessed to be a part of it four years in a row and blessed to play for coach Cal."
Kahuku was seeking its ninth state championship and first since the 2015 season.
Friday's win was the Crusaders second over the Red Raiders this season. They won the regular-season meeting on Sept. 14 by a score of 28-0, in a game that was called at halftime due to a lighting malfunction at Aloha Stadium.
Saint Louis has won its last 38 games since a 33-20 loss to Punahou on Sept. 29, 2016.