It's not the million-dollar question.
Saints, Buffs lead the way
St. Louis, naturally, is the team to beatBy Pat Bigold
in the ILH, but who is best of the rest?
Who's favored to win the Interscholastic League of Honolulu football title?
You'd have to be living in a cave on Molokai not to know that 11-time defending league and Prep Bowl champion St. Louis is so rich in experience, talent, coaching and heritage that the race is for second place again.
Punahou (2-0), the best of the rest for the past four seasons, might be considered a second-place dynasty. Dan Morrison's Buffanblu are 32-8 in the ILH since he resumed his coaching career there in 1993. Two of those wins were against the Crusdaders. Punahou had the last win against St. Louis (21-13 in October 1995) before the Crusaders began their current 22-game win streak.
The Crusaders and Buffanblu play the second game of a double-header tomorrow at Aloha Stadium as the ILH officially reopens for business. Kamehameha plays Pac-Five at 5 p.m. St. Louis and Punahou kick off at 7:45 Also tomorrow Iolani plays host to Damien at 3:15 p.m.
Morrison's quarterbacks and receivers have consistently led the ILH in yardage since he has been at the Buffanblu helm. This has been the case even in what appeared to be lean years.
In 1993, the Buffanblu lost their starting quarterback to injury early in the season and lost three of their first four games. They won the second round of the ILH season, however, to force a playoff with St. Louis and their backup quarterback, Maka Puli, led the league in passing.
So, even though the Buffanblu have only five returning starters, it's unwise to discount Punahou this year.
"You've got to respect their record and what they've done in the past," said St. Louis head coach Cal Lee, whose team is ranked as high as No. 5 in one national poll.
"Their kids really respond to their coaching techniques week after week. And, I say this with sincerity, Dan is one of the brightest coaches in the state. His record shows it."
Among St. Louis' 10 returning starters (six on defense, four on offense), three were 1996 all-staters. They are Jason Gesser, who has become one of the best Hawaii prep quarterback recruits in years, defensive lineman Tony Tata (possibly the top recruit in the state at any position), and linebacker Fabian Manumaleuna.
Punahou will go with a three-man defensive front against St. Louis.
"We are going more for speed because we're not too big," Morrison said. "We have more linebacker and DB types."
How do you stop Gesser, who has thrown six touchdown passes in St. Louis' two wins this year and hasn't thrown an interception in 15 games as a St. Louis starter?
"You have to try to corral him," Morrison said. "You have to make him throw off the fifth step every time. That doesn't limit him but it does take away the dangerous element of him stepping out of the pocket and finding guys down the sidelines."
The St. Louis receiving corps, led by senior slotback Craig Stutzman (four touchdowns and 25.9 yards per catch), is deep once again and blessed with quickness.
But Morrison said he also has to worry about St. Louis' running backs -- in particular 5-foot-11, 210-pound Noah Campbell.
On defense, Morrison said St. Louis' efficiency is intimidating.
"Their speed to the ball is incredible. You'll see three to four guys right on the line of scrimmage on the pitch. And they're very seldom out of position."
Besides Tata and Manumaleuna, there are lineman Sam Taulealea and defensive back Keala Loo to worry about.
Punahou has a towering senior quarterback, 6-foot-4 Ryan Tripton, to succeed league-leading passer Noah King. Tripton's still learning the ropes, but he's behind three returning offensive lineman and he has at least one returning starter among his receivers, junior Jeremy Lim.
The Buffanblu hope to get some big plays out of junior defensive back Keola Ane, who is the grandson of former NFLer Charley Ane.
Others in the hunt for a berth in the Prep Bowl's preliminary game are Kamehameha and Iolani.
The Warriors (six returning starters), under second-year head coach Kanani Souza, return all-state running back Jacob Ordenstein (the ILH's leading rusher with 669 yards and nine touchdowns), as well as second-team all-state offensive lineman Rockne Freitas.
Nose guard Chris Brown heads up the defense.
Iolani (14 returning starters) has the league's third leading rusher of 1996, junior Joe Igber whose has speed in the open field. Last season's third-leading passer, Marvin Wong (nine touchdowns and 1,070 yards), is also back.
Some say Pac-Five is the league's sleeper. Senior quarterback Neil Rose (928 yards, five touchdowns last season) runs the offense. Damien could do some stinging with its deep-threat southpaw quarterback, Hekili Apao. The Monarchs have 15 returnees who saw significant time in 1996.