For the 11th time overall and first in nearly ten years, the two most storied programs in Hawaii high school football history meet on the field at Aloha Stadium on Friday to decide the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championship.
"This is a game that has been played for years," said Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. "To be a part of the Kahuku vs. Saint Louis rivalry is something really special."
At this point, "special" may be the best word to describe Tagovailoa's performance against Mililani in last week's semifinal game. The junior signal-caller passed for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns, while also running for two scores, in the first half of the Crusaders' 56-30 victory. He rested the second half of the game after Saint Louis had the outcome in-hand.
"He's an awesome quarterback," said Kahuku senior defensive back Keala Santiago. "He's got a strong arm, he can run the ball. And we really need to bring our complete game, our A-game, in order to stop him."
The 2015 Red Raider defense has been proficient at stopping just about everyone, and Santiago, with 7 interceptions on the season, including one returned for a touchdown last week against Waianae, is a major part of the reason why.
"It's not all about me. We've got the whole defense," said Santiago. "Because of them, I'm in the position I'm in, making interceptions. But the (defensive) line continues to rush, linebackers playing everything underneath, leaving me open to make big plays, and I give the credit to them up front."
Kahuku's 13-0 victory over the Seariders last weekend was Kahuku's sixth shutout victory of the year, a number not lost on the men of Kalaepohaku.
"These guys can blitz, these guys can cover, they can do it all," said Tagovailoa. "We don't expect anything less than athleticism from their defense."
Kahuku's senior leaders on defense, like lineman Bradlee Anae, say they cherish the challenge of trying to keep Tagovailoa under control.
"It's in our heart, it's in our blood," said Anae. "We love to compete at the highest level every time. He's good, we know it, we watch him on film, but we'll do our best to keep him in check."
Crusader offensive linemen like Nate Herbig, a 6'5" senior who has committed to play football at Stanford next season, says the caliber--and reputation--of Kahuku's defense has driven his teammates during practices leading up to Friday's game.
"That's all we've heard, we've heard about how good their defense is," Herbig said. "No one is really giving our offense any credit, they just think (Kahuku) is going to shut us down."
"We want to take that championship and bring it home to the slopes of Kalaepohaku," added Saint Louis senior wide receiver Drew Kobayashi, who plans to suit up next season with the Cal Bears. "We've been trying to practice hard, learn everything we can (from watching film), and just go into the game with a lot of knowledge about what they're going to try and do, so we can do it better."
A Crusader conquest would make it 15 overall state titles for Saint Louis head football coach Cal Lee, already the winningest coach in Hawaii high school history. In his first year as a Red Raider, Kahuku coach Vavae Tata has the chance to return the trophy to Oahu's North Shore.
"Bringing it back home would be the finished product that they've been working on since spring," Tata told Hawaii News Now this week.
The game is one that comes full-circle for Lee, who coached Tata at Saint Louis in the early 1990s and led him to a state football championship over the high school program he now helms.
"For (our team) to bring the championship home, I think it's something that's something they will remember for their entire life," said Lee.
Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at Aloha Stadium, following the conclusion of the D2 state title game between Kapaa and Radford.
Parking at the Main Gate 1 and Halawa Gate 3 will open to the public at 3 p.m. North Kam Gate 2 and Lower Salt Lake Gate 4 will open at 6 p.m. Tailgating will be allowed with the following guidelines: 1) Limited to ONE stall (including tables and chairs); 2) No open flames; 3) No Alcohol; 4) No Tents; 5) No Saving of Stalls. Turnstile Gates 1 and 4 will open to the public at 3:30 p.m. followed by Turnstile Gates 5 and 8 opening at 6 p.m.
Fans can avoid long lines at the Aloha Stadium Box Office by purchasing tickets at any First Hawaiian Bank (while supplies last) during regular business hours. On game day, the Aloha Stadium Main Box Office will begin selling tickets for this event at 9 a.m.