They haven’t forgotten where it began.
The Saint Louis Crusaders (11-1) completed their reunion campaign with coach Darnell Arceneaux as state champions thanks to a 36-13 win over Waianae on Friday in the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships. But they remembered the summer conditioning program and all the work at Kapiolani Park, where they trained part of the time because of renovations on campus.
"We’ve been working since summer time, back in May. We worked our butts off at Kapiolani Park and UH’s field. It was an awesome experience," said defensive end Juda Parker, who transferred from Word of Life with offensive lineman Paulay Asiata when that school closed its doors.
The Crusaders weren’t allowed an easy walk to the title by Waianae (6-8), which caught fire in the state tourney with wins over Kealakehe and Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Mililani, the top seed. If not for the league’s disqualification of Kahuku, which was No. 1 and 10-0, Waianae wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play in the tournament.
To Saint Louis, Waianae was simply another dangerous foe that refused to back down.
"We had to focus and do the small things," said senior wide receiver Duke Bukoski.
"We said, ‘Let’s take it play by play and continue to drive the ball down,’ " senior quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
Mariota, who has committed to Oregon, finished 17-for-23 for 230 yards with three touchdowns. Saint Louis didn’t commit a turnover.
"He’s blessed with God-given talents. He’s just a great young man," Arceneaux said. "His mom and dad did a great job raising him. I can’t wait to see him on Saturdays."
Cornerback Leland Gomez had the spotlight after snagging two of his team’s three interceptions.
"We started putting up some points on the board and getting some three and outs. DBs, our mind set was we were ready for it. Just read the quarterback and get some picks."
The background of that success came from facing Mariota daily.
"At least 100 passes a week. We do a lot of 7-on-7s, 1-on-1s. He’s got one of the best arms in the state," Gomez said. "Practicing against him every day made us better as a team. Our ‘backers, our DBs did what we had to do to accomplish our goal. It was Waianae, Saint Louis, a big rivalry and we did what we had to do."
A steady diet of run stops and pressure on Waianae quarterback Puletua Wilson didn’t hurt, either. Starr Sua-Passi (eight tackles), Na’Alii Robins (seven) and Parker (six) led the way in the trenches.
Mariota was highly efficient thanks to his line and a disciplined corps of route runners, including senior Joshua Tupua.
"From the beginning we had that mind-set that we were going to win this no matter what. We didn’t have a field. We had to practice at Kapiolani. Ever since that, we had trust in each other that we’re going to win. Then we had that (nonconference) loss to Kahuku and that brought us closer together," he said.