Kahuku rolls Saint Louis, 39-14, for 8th state title
Kahuku's Pua Falemalu celebrates after catching a 27 yard pass from Kesi Ah Hoy for a touchdown against Saint Louis. Steve Erler | Special to SL
After an inauspicious start, Kahuku brushed off early adversity with a stout defense in a convincing 39-14 win against Saint Louis Friday night to capture the First Hawaiian Bank Division I state football championship.
A Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium crowd of 19, 699 watched the No. 2 Red Raiders (13-0) complete an Oahu Interscholastic Association sweep of state titles. Earlier, Radford beat Kapaa for the Division II crown. It is the first time since 2003 that the OIA swept titles when Kahuku and Aiea took D1 and D2, respectively.
No. 1 Saint Louis (9-2) dropped to 3-6 in title games, including 1-5 to Kahuku.
It was Kahuku's first title since 2012 and eighth overall, the most of any program.
The Red Raiders became the ninth OIA team to finish with perfect season. Very shortly after the game ended, some, including rookie coach Vavae Tata sported a "state champion" T-shirt.
"Unbelievable," Kahuku wildcat Kesi Ah-Hoy said. "I can't believe it so far. I mean, Coach Tata always tells us to strive for greatness and that's what we tried to do. That's been the moral of this season: always strive for greatness."
Tata, Kahuku's third coach in as many seasons, shed the light on his players.
"It's the kids," he said. "Kids win games, coaches lose'em. Hat's off to the senior class. They've been through a whole lot. Three coaching changes, there's no better way than to go out on top."
Wildcat Kesi Ah-Hoy paced the offense with three rushing TDs for Kahuku.
Kahuku's defense set the tone, recovering three fumbles and intercepting three passes off Saint Louis' Tua Tagovailoa. Three of those turnovers led to touchdowns.
"It's one of those things," Saint Louis coach Cal Lee said. "They (the Red Raiders) had a lot to do with it."
Tagovailoa, the state's top passer in yards and TD passes, was 21 of 40 for 191 yards with three interceptions. He had five interceptions entering the game. It was the first time this season he did not throw a TD pass for the first time in 20 games he has played. It was his first sub-200-yard passing game since preseason against Fagaitua, when he shared time with Chevan Cordeiro.
"It's very disappointing, especially on my part as a leader," Tagovailoa said. "It wasn't the performance I expected, but it was what it was."
Tagovailoa was under pressure most of the game. Tagovailoa was sacked four times, twice by Aaron Tapusoa and once each by Kanongataa and Bradlee Anae.
"Just bring the heat, try to take the quarterback out," Santiago said of the defense's performance. "If the pressure was there, we'd have a good game."
The penalty-laden game saw the teams combine for 23 infractions for 253 yards. Kahuku had 12 for 131, including that was called even before the kickoff. During the coin toss, Kahuku broke into its haka facing Saint Louis and were penalized 15 yards on the opening kickoff. The Saints kicked off from the Kahuku 45 for a touchback.
Kahuku did not make any progress and punted after three plays and no gain. But Iosefa Noga blocked Kekoa Sasaoka's punt and Paikai Kainalulaakea returned the loose ball 10 yards to put Saint Louis ahead, 7-0, after Jacob Tobias' PAT just 52 seconds into the game.
Tata was not concerned.
"Ah, just let the dust settle," Tata said.
The defense took control when Tagovailoa completed a 30-yard pass to Ronson Young, who lost a fumble that was recovered by Keala Santiago, on the second play from scrimmage. Six plays later, Ah-Hoy scored on an 11-yard run with Sasaoka's PAT tying the game at 7 with 6:29 in the first quarter.
On the first play of Saint Louis' second series, Kaula Kaniho forced Tagovailoa to fumble after a 15-yard gain with Lono Kanongataa recovering at the Saint Louis 38. The Red Raiders cashed in on the takeaway on Ah-Hoy's 6-yard TD run with 1:48 in the first quarter. Sasaoka's PAT failed to keep Kahuku's lead at 13-7.
In the second quarter, Saint Louis had a high snap from center in punt formation sail into and roll out of the end zone for a safety to make Kahuku's lead 15-0 with 4:04 in the half.
Kahuku took advantage of the ensuing free kick with a five-play, 36-yard drive that ended with Ah-Hoy's 27-yard TD pass to J-R Falemalu to make it 22-7 with 2:03 in the half.
The second half started for Saint Louis on a low note when a high snap from center in punt formation at Kahuku's 45 sailed over the punter and Kaniho returned the loose ball 17 yards for a TD to make it 29-7 with 10:04 in the third quarter.
Kahuku returned the favor on its next series when a high snap from punt formation netted a 35-yard loss to the Kahuku 5. Three plays later, Tagovailoa faked a dive and ran for the left corner of the end zone for a TD from 4 yards out to pull Saint Louis to 29-14 with 6:29 in the third.
Tagovailoa's third pick of the game, this one by Stokes Botelho, led to Kahuku's last TD, a 19-yard run by Ah-Hoy to make it 36-15 with 4:56 in the game.
In the closing seconds, Sasaoka booted a 31-yard field goal to make it 39-14.
Kahuku changed its offensive look at the start with Cameron Renaud starting at QB, throwing two incomplete passes. But the passes sent a message.
"It mixes it up," Ah-Hoy said. "You never know what you're going to get. Cameron can hand it off to our fullbacks or he could throw it. For the past three games, he's been unbelievable. Next man up."