No. 1 Saint Louis handles No. 4 Punahou in regular season opener


Sat, Sep 18, 2021 @ Punahou [ 3:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
STL(3-3-0) 14 14 7 641
PUN(1-4-0) 7 10 0 623

MANOA—AJ Bianco tossed three touchdown passes and Trech Kekahuna and Jaysen de Laura added two more on the ground to lift No. 1 Saint Louis past No. 4 Punahou, 41-23 in an Interscholastic League of Honolulu Open Division contest at Punahou's Alexander Field Saturday.

The Crusaders, who have not played since their preseason game against Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada) on Aug. 20, used a balanced offense attack to rack up 545 yards of total offense in their season-opening win to improve to 1-1 overall, 1-0 league.

With all the delays due to COVID-19 protocols, Saint Louis coach Ron Lee was grateful to make it to Saturday's contest.

"We were happy and we knew we needed to get better. We have a lot of work to do. We went four or five weeks that we were told we had to postpone. When we got to Thursday, we felt pretty good. We were crossing our fingers until we got onto the field and ready for kick off and we can get started," Lee said via phone interview.

The Buffanblu, who have not played since their 33-28 win over Kamehameha-Kapalama on Aug. 27, fell to 1-1 in league play.

Punahou went three-and-out on their opening offensive possession and Saint Louis went on a eight play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Devon Tauefa from AJ Bianco for an early, 7-0 lead.

In his second game as the starting QB, Bianco found 10 different receivers and threw for 279 yards on 24-of-34 passing, three scores, and an interception.

"For his second game, he didn't play much as a freshman or sophomore. Being a young quarterback, he did a nice job for managing the team and he made some big plays. He is very accurate and he moves around and moves better. Before we get done, he's going to be outstanding," Lee said of Bianco.

Greg Yamamoto | SL    Purchase image

The Crusaders struck again for another score following another Buffanblu punt. Bianco was sacked twice on the drive but Trech Kekahuna took the draw on a third-and-11 for a 38-yard rushing touchdown to put Saint Louis up 14-0.

Kekahuna had eight catches for 103 yards, 82 rushing yards, and 43 kick off return yards to finish with 228 all-purpose yards.

"He's fast and shifty, and he has a running back mentally. He's relentless and wants to get it in the end zone. It makes him special," Lee said of Kekahuna.

John-Keawe Sagapolutele, who finished with 212 yards on 19-of-36 passing, targeted Noah Macapulay for a gain of 19 yards and connected again for a 39-yard score six seconds before the end of the first quarter to get the Buffanblu on the scoreboard. Macapulay finished with six catches for 85 yards to lead all Punahou receivers.

Saint Louis answered quickly to start the second quarter with a three-play scoring drive on a draw play to Jaysen de Laura, who took it into the end zone from 48 yards out for a 21-7 lead. The Crusaders amassed 257 net rushing yards led by Ola Apduhan with 88 yards on 14 carries and de Laura finished with 57 yards on the ground. 

"That was part of our package and we have to run some delays, draws and traps to keep the defense honest. You can see our little backs can run. If you can't slow them down, they're dangerous in the secondary," Lee said of the rushing touchdown.

On the ensuing kick off, Astin Hange gave the Buffanblu life with a 90-yard kickoff return to bring Punahou within a score.

The Crusaders marched down the field with an 11-play, 80 yard drive capped off by Yoshi Takahashi's 12-yard touchdown pass from Bianco on a fourth-and-5 to pad the lead, 28-14 with 5:56 left to go in the first half.

Alika Cavaco-Amoy picked off Bianco and Punahou redeemed the turnover into a 41-yard field goal from Jordan Kapisi as time expired as the Buffanblu trailed by 11 going into intermission.

Bianco went 6 for 6 on their second offensive drive in the third quarter and threw his third touchdown pass of the afternoon to Apduhan to make it, 35-17.

Punahou's Travis Ross dropped Oha Kamakawiwoole for a loss and forced the ball out of his hand and Tevarua Tafiti scooped up the fumble and rumbled downfield for a 50-yard score. Sagapolutele's rush attempt on the two-point conversion was no good and trailed, 35-23.

The Buffanblu forced the Crusaders to punt for the third time in the afternoon and took over on the Saint Louis 35 hoping to cut into the deficit, but Blaze Holani strip-sacked Sagapolutele and recovered the fumble. Kamakawiwoole threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chyler DeSilva for the final score of the afternoon.

Saint Louis' defense held Punahou to 220 yards of total offense and minus-6 net rushing and Iona Purcell led the way with seven solo tackles and Kahiau Correa had two of the Crusaders' four sacks.

"I'm excited about our defense. We're young on defense and we lost a lot of players to college. We're very, very young. I thought they played really well. We have to tighten up on the pass run, John-Keawe (Sagapolutele) escaped and credit to him, but for a young bunch of guys they did well," Lee said of the defense.

Cavaco-Amoy had seven solo tackles and had two of the team's six sacks. Tahiti Wolfe led all players with eight solo tackles in the loss.

The Crusaders take on No. 5 Kamehameha (0-1) in the nightcap of a double header at Aloha Stadium following the PAC-5/Kamehameha II game on Sept. 24.

"We look forward to being able to play. That running back (Noah Bartley) is unbelievable and they have a solid quarterback (Kealii Ah Yat). We look forward to the challenge. We have our work cut out for us," Lee said of the Warriors.

Punahou has a bye and plays the Warriors on Oct. 1. The Buffanblu and Crusaders are scheduled to meet again on Friday, Oct. 8 at Aloha Stadium.

Reach Brandon Ching at [email protected].

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