High school football: Non-stop drama for state title games

For two of the three teams to take home a koa trophy on Friday, it was a sense of relief.

For the Hilo Vikings, it was disbelief.


The First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships at Aloha Stadium ended with Saint Louis and Lahainaluna marching on to fourth consecutive crowns.

The Crusaders walloped Kahuku 45-6 to run the second-longest winning streak in Oahu high school football history to 38 games, while the Lunas beat Kapaa 21-10 to add another Division II title to the trophy case.

Lunas running back Joshua Tihada rushed for a state-tournament-record 310 yards. Saint Louis linebacker Nick Herbig set a state-tourney record with a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown.

There was even an 86-yard touchdown throw from Saint Louis quarterback Jayden de Laura to receiver Roman Wilson on the second play from scrimmage in the Open Division final.

As great as all of those plays and achievements were, they were overshadowed by what will go down as the lasting image of the 2019 prep football season.

It came in the Division I state final between Hilo and ‘Iolani. With the game tied at 17, senior kicker Keanu Keolanui lined up for a 55-yard field goal.

He didn’t look at the numbers on the field because it makes him nervous. He didn’t know how long the kick actually was.

The soccer-player-turned-football-kicker looked at the two yellow uprights that seemed miles away and kicked the football as hard as he could.

The ball landed on top of the crossbar and bounced back up into the air. When it finally hit the ground, it was behind the uprights. Keolanui had tied a state-tournament record and instantly became a viral sensation on social media, but much more importantly, he had won a state championship for the Vikings, 20-17 over ‘Iolani.

“It means everything. My boys just played so hard, and I’m glad I got to help them win their game,” Keolanui said.

It wasn’t the only points scored with no time remaining on the clock. The Vikings trailed the Raiders 17-3 at halftime after senior Lanakila Pei returned a punt 94 yards for a TD on the final play of the first half.

That, too, was a state record.

Nearly 10 hours of record-breaking football started with Tihada’s rushing performance that is unmatched in state history.

His 310 yards came on 36 carries and his three touchdowns gave him 67 in his career, with 19 coming in nine state tournament games.

When he was finally done, he made sure to point out the number four was a lot more important than 310.

“(A four-peat) has been the thought since I was a little kid coming here when I was a waterboy and just being like I want to play in this atmosphere,” Tihada said. “Every year I wanted to strive for this very moment.”

The night ended with the Crusaders (12-0) living up to their No. 6 ranking in the country. Saint Louis held Kahuku to 120 total yards by registering nine sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

It was the perfect way to go out for a senior class that will go down as one of the best ever.

Just look at the Power Five schools that will welcome Crusaders next season — Wisconsin (Herbig), Notre Dame (LB Jordan Botelho), Utah (S Kamo’i Latu), Cal (DT Stanley McKenzie), UCLA (WR Matt Sykes), Washington State (de Laura), Michigan (Wilson).

The 39-point win over Kahuku was the largest margin of victory ever in the top-tier state final, and the Crusaders are the first school to win four in a row in the state tournament in the top division.

The Saint Louis program is all the way back to where it was when it won 13 Prep Bowls in a row from 1986 to 1998, but it might create a problem in the offseason.

This marked the end of the two-year pilot program in which the OIA and ILH came together to play in three different divisions.

The results have been outstanding in Division I and Division II, but the Crusaders have dominated the OIA in the Open Division. No public school team came within 20 points of Saint Louis this season. Its last three wins of the regular season over OIA opponents were by a combined 107 points.

Whether the format changes or remains the same in 2020, even with a large number of losses to graduation, Saint Louis will again be the team every top-tier division school is gunning for.


“It’s always there,” Cal Lee said of the bull’s-eye placed on the Crusaders. “You always got that on your back. We don’t want to make the bull’s-eye too big.”

It’s hard to imagine it being any bigger.

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