Buffanblu, Crusaders to meet Friday in match-up of state's top two football teams

St. Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa warms up before a 2015 game at Aloha Stadium.
St. Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa warms up before a 2015 game at Aloha Stadium.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For senior offensive lineman Kanai Eldredge and the second-ranked Punahou Buffanblu, rivalry week with the top-ranked Saint Louis Crusaders is known as "Saints Week." To those outside either football program, it's characterized slightly differently: the biggest match-up of the week in Hawaii high school football.

"Aw, yeah, it's exciting, we've been looking forward to this week all year," Eldredge said. "We've just been getting ready for it. It's always fun to play a good rivalry game. It's going to be a lot of fun."

For fans of high school football, few matchups would seem as fun to watch; both programs are undefeated during the 2015 season, a fact not lost on Punahou head coach Kale Ane.

"We're definitely not trying to hype it up, but it's there, it's on the news, and what not, and it's great," Ane said. "It's great for the state. It's great for our kids, we want to play in big games like this, and we look forward to the opportunity."

Perhaps no player on the Punahou roster is more thankful for the opportunity than junior quarterback Nick Kapule. With regular starter Ephraim Tuliloa sidelined with an injury, Kapule has thrown for more than 600 yards and 7 touchdowns in the last two games, both wins for the Buffanblu.

"I'm really excited," said Kapule. "I've been working hard for this. I know the team's got my back, and I'll do the best I can, and we'll come out with the win."

To do that, Punahou will need to overcome not only what may be the state's best quarterback, in Tua Tagovailoa, but also a handful of the state's top defensive prospects.

"They've got a couple division one kids, you can't ignore that," Coach Kale Ane said. "You've got to be aware of that, and the schemes that we're putting together we hope will allow us to counteract their talent a little bit."

Among the talented "division one" kids referred to by Coach Ane are junior linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia and senior linebacker Jordan Iosefa, a future USC Trojan who sees an opportunity of his own in facing a less-experienced quarterback.

"The thing we have to do is make sure we go after him, and make sure we pressure the quarterback, that's the most important thing," Iosefa said. "To make him feel uncomfortable in the back field... He's gonna throw his footballs, but we've just got to make sure we trust our corners and safeties and what they can do."

Saint Louis will start a junior at quarterback as well, but one who can hardly be treated as such; Tua Tagovailoa is regarded by many as the top quarterback prospect in the state despite his age. Tagovailoa's maturity shows both on the football field, where he routinely shakes hands with receivers after every completed catch in practice, and off it, while discussing the Crusaders' next opponent.

"Punahou's defense is a very good defense," Tagovailoa said. "As far as we've seen on film. Last year's defense was one of the best that I've seen in ILH football. They have a lot of well-rounded guys."

Tagovailoa dressed but did not play in the Crusaders win over 'Iolani on Friday night because of a calf injury. Saint Louis head football coach Cal Lee says Tagovailoa is expected to start Friday's game against Punahou.

"Well, I can't suit up and get out there and play, so Tua's going to have to do it instead," Lee joked on Wednesday afternoon. "He'll play."

Coach Lee and his team know what to expect from the banged-up Tagovailoa, but everyone else will have to wait until game time. Kick-off is set for 8 p.m. on Friday night at Aloha Stadium.

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