State berth on line as No. 1 Buffs face No. 2 Crusaders


POSTED: Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's a numbers game, but championships are ultimately determined by minds and hearts.

Saint Louis coach John Hao knows it. Punahou guru Kale Ane knows it. In the midst of their regular-season finale tomorrow for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu football crown, the little things will matter. Untimely penalties. Self sacrifice for the team. Extra effort.

The numbers?

1 is Punahou's ranking in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Though Saint Louis won their early-season matchup 40-19, voters haven't forgiven the Crusaders for a midseason loss to 'Iolani.

2 is Saint Louis' place in the pecking order even though both the Buffanblu and Crusaders are 6-1 in the ILH. Tomorrow's winner moves on to the state tournament. The loser is done for the year.

3 Saint Louis starters are nursing ankle injuries.

4 games is what slotback Lucas Gonsalves has missed since injuring a collarbone against Iolani. Gonsalves could return tomorrow, but his coach said not likely.

“;We might see him,”; Hao said yesterday. “;It would be a miracle.”;

Gonsalves had 25 receptions for 338 yards and three scores in four games before his injury.

5 is how many positions Punahou's Dalton Hilliard could play - running back, slotback, wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner. Hilliard overcame an ankle injury to help the Buffanblu outlast Kamehameha 21-14 last week.

6 is the number of touchdown passes Jeremy Higgins tossed in Saint Louis' win over Kamehameha two weeks ago. The junior was 24-for-35 for 360 yards and three touchdowns with no picks against Punahou on Sept. 13.

9 is the catches Jordan Fukumoto had against Punahou (for 119 yards and a touchdown). That game brought Fukumoto into the spotlight.

10 is what Billy Ray Stutzmann was in last week's win over Kamehameha. The UH-bound speedster had 10 receptions for 135 yards. In fact, against the ILH's D-I teams, he now has 20 catches for 339 yards and four touchdowns in three games.

Ten is also the number of catches Trevor Mau has made in his last two games for the Crusaders (234 yards, three touchdowns).

13 touchdowns is pretty large, but for Robby Toma it's been a somewhat quiet two weeks. After scoring touchdowns in Punahou's first eight games, he hasn't touched the end zone for two weeks. The UCLA recruit has 60 receptions for 911 yards so far.

15 is the jersey number of Cayman Shutter, who was knocked out of last week's game and is questionable this week. Shutter's timing and finesse with the passing game are crucial, but backup Kimo Makaula is no slouch (63-for-110, 879 yards, eight touchdowns, five picks).

Punahou loses an all-state-caliber tight end in Makaula (15 catches, 205 yards) when he moves to the pocket.

16is the number of touchdowns scored by future Bruin Hilliard - nine by ground, six by air and one by interception return.

19 tackles is what Punahou linebacker/running back Manti Te'o amassed in the loss to Saint Louis. The Buffanblu have reinvented their defense scheme since then.

That brings it all back to Zero, which is what Punahou calls its multi-faceted defense - a far cry from the vanilla look it offered Saint Louis last time.

Hao, a run-and-shoot purist, believes in his young pupils. Punahou (9-1 overall) has only one true offensive peer statewide in Saint Louis (8-1 overall), a team that scored big (30 points) in its only loss.

“;I still think they'll let their corners go 1-on-1,”; Hao surmised. “;Now, you're leaving the best player to win the battle.”;

Maybe that means Toma and Hilliard see more time at cornerback.

“;Punahou's defense is the only one that is unusual. They won't play that type of defense until they play us,”; Hao said.

It may also be a different offense by Punahou, at least in terms of personnel. Te'o has seen more snaps and touches on offense in the past few games. A combo of Hilliard, Toma, Te'o, Mark Silverstein and Galen Arakawa is a formidable set of skill-position players.

Hao, a former Saint Louis standout passer, embraces the circumstances.

“;This will be one of the biggest games of the season, maybe bigger than the state championship because of the rivalry,”; he said.

With a handful of Crusaders, including running back Austin Wakinekona, recovering from the flu, the Crusaders are in bunker-mentality mode.

“;My concern is for our team. As long as we can do what we're supposed to, I think everything will fall into place,”; Hao said. “;Offensively and defensively, we have the scheming and the talent to play with any Hawaii team.”;

Saint Louis won the previous two ILH titles. Punahou won it three years ago. The ILH has not won a Division I state title in the past three tries.