Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai and Long Beach Poly coach Raul Lara shook hands after Saturday's first game.

Football, national style,
makes grand impact
in Hawaii

Victorious elite teams were impressed
with the talent and drive
of St. Louis and Kahuku

By Jason Kaneshiro

Opportunity was the key word at Saturday's First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Football Classic.

Hawaii's football powers finally got the chance they had long craved to test themselves against the nation's premier high school programs. The players of the two visiting teams got to taste life outside of California, many for the first time. And a crowd of 27,811 at Aloha Stadium and a statewide television audience got to see why Long Beach Poly and De La Salle (Concord) are regarded among the country's elite teams.


"We were lucky to have this, a lot of kids don't get this chance," De La Salle running back Maurice Drew said.

Long Beach Poly used superior quickness to take advantage of Kahuku's mistakes in the Jackrabbits' 42-16 win over the Red Raiders, and top-ranked De La Salle extended its unfathomable winning streak to 127 with a 31-21 victory over St. Louis in the nightcap.

"I didn't know what to expect," De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur said. "Coming into the game, in a lot of ways I thought it was going to be a tossup, so I was real happy with how it turned out."

The countless hours of planning and preparation since the doubleheader was announced in February left HHSAA executive director Keith Amemiya drained, but gratified, after the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The coaches praised the organization of the event, and the Pearl City High School marching band wowed the crowd with yet another of its halftime extravaganzas.

"I'm gonna get a long rest and evaluate everything," Amemiya said. "Despite the outcome, the event showed success. We got an excellent crowd despite live statewide TV."

On the field, although both St. Louis and Kahuku came up short, the losses didn't diminish the reputation of Hawaii football nationally.

"Most people will still say California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are the best for football, but Hawaii is very strong for the size of state it is," said Mark Tennis of Student Sports Inc., which produces a national high school sports magazine and Web site.

"We've always been impressed with the Hawaii teams. Yeah, they lost tonight, but St. Louis' record against California is now 11-3-1, and it's usually good teams that they beat. So there's still a lot they can be proud of."

The Crusaders' effort also won them a measure of respect from their opponent.

"I was really anxious to see what kind of team St. Louis put together," De La Salle quarterback Britt Cecil said. "They are ranked No. 15 (in the nation) and showed they deserve every bit of that. You guys play some good football in Hawaii."

Said Drew: "(The Crusaders) are great guys, they hit hard and play hard whistle to whistle."

Drew turned in a 125-yard rushing performance to lead the Spartans, but it was Cecil's second connection with Cameron Colvin in the first quarter that may have sealed the outcome.

Facing third-and-12 at the St. Louis 36, Cecil lobbed a pass for Colvin down the makai sideline. St. Louis cornerback Jonah Lakatani was in position to defend the play, but Colvin outjumped Lakatani, tipped the ball and caught it falling down at the St. Louis 1. The Spartans scored on their next play to take a commanding 21-0 lead.

Kahuku's Viliami Nauahi was congratulated by fans after Saturday's 42-16 loss to Long Beach Poly at Aloha Stadium.

"It was a bad ball, I threw it too early and off my back foot," Cecil said. "My heart jumped into the throat and I just hoped it would be incomplete, not intercepted. Cameron just made an incredible catch. He is incredible."

Kahuku's young squad couldn't keep up with Poly's speed and hurt itself with five turnovers, three leading to Jackrabbit scores. The loss ended the Red Raiders' winning streak at 26.

Poly quarterback Leon Jackson nimbly eluded the Kahuku pass rush to complete passes downfield and the Jackrabbit backs exploited the slightest of openings to break long runs.

On the other side of the ball, any hesitation by a Kahuku ball carrier led to a swarm of Poly defenders converging on him.

Still, Red Raider coach Siuaki Livai saw the game as an opportunity to evaluate his team as it resumes its run for another Oahu Interscholastic Association championship.

"I think I found some answers tonight," Livai said. "I need to look at the film, regardless of the score, just to look at where we need to improve and look at what we've got. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we'll set what we want to do."

Despite the outcome, there is already talk of Kahuku traveling to Long Beach to face the Jackrabbits again next season.

"Anytime I get to play in something big, I like the challenge," Livai said. "I told (Long Beach coach Raul Lara) yes, but the (OIA) has to give their OK. ... (Poly officials) said, 'Coach, we're waiting for your answer,' and I said, 'Give me 'til next week, I need to ask these guys to please give me a chance to go up there and redeem myself.' "

As for the immediate future?

For De La Salle and Long Beach Poly, two games remain before they shake the prep football world again with their showdown in Berkeley, Calif., on Oct. 12.

Kahuku will try to start a new winning streak Friday night at Roosevelt. St. Louis may have the toughest turnaround, as the Crusaders must refocus quickly for a battle against Kamehameha in a key Interscholastic League of Honolulu contest Friday.

And for Amemiya and his HHSAA staff, a long, well-deserved nap.

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