Almost on the same weekend as this year’s matchups in which the No. 1 and No. 2 teams from California played leading teams from Hawaii, there was a doubleheader in 2002 in which the No. 1 and No. 2 teams from California played top-ranked Hawaii teams at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. We were there and it remains one of the biggest high school sports events we’ve ever seen in 45 years of covering the state.
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It was a different era the last time that California’s No. 1 and No. 2 high school football teams played opponents from Hawaii on the same weekend in the same event.
This weekend it was a Friday matchup at Panish Family Stadium in Bellflower in which state No. 1 and Mater Dei of Santa Ana defeated Mililani of Hawaii 42-14 as part of The Trinity League vs. USA Showcase. It was followed the next night with state No. 2 St. John Bosco of Bellflower rolling past Mililani of Hawaii 34-7. The manner in which both the Braves and Monarchs already had separated themselves from teams all across the nation made the California vs Hawaii part of it quite muted.
Twenty years ago, however, it was something out of a movie. Both No. 1 De La Salle of Concord and No. 2 Long Beach Poly played in a doubleheader that was staged at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. There was incredible interest in it on the islands, so much so that 30,000 tickets were sold. Front page stories in the two major Honolulu newspapers ran for several days before the games. In one of them, Governor Linda Lingle reflected the excitement about what might happen. At a rally held at St. Louis High in Honolulu on the Friday before the games, all local TV stations came and interviewed players.
It all began as a proposal from the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, which aimed to match the top two Hawaii football programs at the time – St. Louis and Kahuku – in a dreamy doubleheader at Aloha Stadium between the top two teams from California. De La Salle had been No. 1 in the state at the time for eight straight years, had stretched its already longest win streak in U.S. history to 125 games, and had defeated Poly (the top team from Southern California) in 2001 in what many still call the most historic game ever played in the state.
“It’s good for the school, the community and the state to play a team of De La Salle’s caliber,” St. Louis athletic director Cal Lee told the Honolulu Advertiser. “You mention De La Salle anywhere and everybody knows who they are.”
Sure, there were convenient byes on the schedules of the two California teams and it was possible through their CIF sections to travel, but when all those tickets were sold, a major sponsor was obtained (First Hawaiian Bank) and TV broadcast packages were arranged so that conceivably hundreds of thousands could watch on the mainland, it became almost impossible for De La Salle and Long Beach Poly to say no.
Plans of the doubleheader were formalized among the four schools involved in January of 2002, Permission had to be granted from two leagues in Hawaii at the time to allow St. Louis and Kahuku to take byes so that a date later in September could occur. Coaches at De La Salle and Long Beach Poly were very interested in participating, but they didn’t want such a prominent opponent on their schedules in their first games.
The hype for the games began in August when preseason national rankings were released. All of them had De La Salle at No. 1, which was returning running back Maurice Drew and others. Long Beach Poly was generally between No. 5 and No. 10, with St. Louis receiving mention as well. All four teams then took care of business prior to the event as De La Salle opened its season with a 24-0 win over Mitty of San Jose. Long Beach Poly started out with a 45-0 romp past Westchester of Los Angeles, and both St. Louis and Kahuku were 2-0 and 3-0, respectively.
De La Salle coaches told their players for many weeks leading up to the trip to Hawaii that there wouldn’t be much fun. There was a game to play and practice schedules to maintain. The Spartans arrived on Wednesday, Sept. 18 and their first order of business, after checking in at their hotel, was to practice. The only non-football activities on their itinerary was a luau on their first night and a visit to the U.S.S. Missouri on their third day.
“We just stayed at our hotel the whole time, but that was okay because we bonded together as a team real well,” said De La Salle defensive back Damon Jenkins, who later played at Fresno State and who is now head football coach at Kerman High in the CIF Central Section. “That was one of our goals for the trip.”
Long Beach Poly’s contingent arrived one day later than De La Salle’s and the Jackrabbits couldn’t believe their welcome. Kahuku’s cheerleading squad had driven over from the north shore of Oahu, a 45-minute trip from where the school is located, and gave their opponents a rousing cheer. Head coach Raul Lara was immediately whisked away to Aloha Stadium for the pre-event press conference with three other head coaches and the team soon joined him for an afternoon practice.
“All the attention we received was great,” said Long Beach Poly quarterback Leon Jackson. “When the cheerleaders greeted us and gave us those leis we were surprised.”
The Games: Could The Streak Be Snapped?
Most observers in Hawaii thought Kahuku, which won the previous two Hawaii state championships and had won 24 games in a row, might be in trouble against the Jackrabbits, especially after the Red Raiders won by just 14-13 in their previous game against McKinley. They were right.
The Californians scored on their first possession on a seven-yard run by Lorenzo Bursey and then took advantage of four first-half turnovers for a 28-2 halftime lead. Derrick Jones, who earlier scored on a 56-yard pass from Jackson, then returned the second half kickoff 82 yards for a score. Poly comfortably on its way to a 42-16 win.
The real draw of the night, though, was the second game involving De La Salle. At that rally the day before, St. Louis head coach Delbert Tengan (who was in his first year as previous head coach Lee became athletic director) said there were many teachers at the school who would shave their heads if the Crusaders could beat the Spartans and snap the longest winning streak in national history at 126 games.
“Let’s see some bald heads at school on Monday,” Tengan told the crown. “Let’s make history.”
The St. Louis defense prevented the Spartans from scoring on their first series, which had become almost a tradition for them in games in those years, but the St. Louis offense went three-and-out and the first quarter went downhill for the Crusaders from there.
De La Salle quarterback Britt Cecil hit on a 46-yard pass to Cameron Colvin on the third play of the next series, which set up Cecil’s own 1-yard TD plunge, and the quarter ended on a 6-yard touchdown run by De La Salle’s Jackie Bates. It was 21-0 after a 17-yard scoring run by Drew (later known as Maurice Jones-Drew, NFL rushing yards leader of the Jacksonville Jaguars).
St. Louis finally found some rhythm on offense. An 80-yard scoring drive in the third quarter by the Crusaders cut the lead to 24-14, but the Spartans answered back with a touchdown of their own to essentially put the game away. They won by the final of 31-21 and the winning streak had been extended to 127 games.
Keith Amimiya, the executive director of the HHSAA who was primarily responsible for setting up the doubleheader, was hoping the local schools would fare better against the highly ranked Californians. He didn’t know at the time that another similar doubleheader could be held later and it did turn out to be a one-shot deal.
One lingering after-effect, however, of another state association and not the California Interscholastic Federation making money off of California teams like De La Salle and Long Beach Poly (which both were national in interest at the time) was that interest within the CIF began to ramp up for CIF state football championships. Four years later after the Hawaii doubleheader, the CIF held its first state title games in football since 1927.
De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur was glad his team started so strongly and had nothing but superlatives for the way in which the event was run.
“It really wasn’t an easy trip, but our guys did a great job improving from the week before,” he said. “Sure, I guess we’d do this again.”
Long Beach Poly’s Lara added: “It was a great experience, but I was so busy I thought I was going to die. It was fun when we finally got to the game, but there were a lot of headaches beforehand.”
Any impressions of the game from St. Louis players and coaches were not immediately available. The entire contingent headed directly for their bus as quickly as possible after the game, which angered the local media from Honolulu. Many of those reporters afterward were equally interested in what those who covered the game from the mainland had to say about Hawaii football.
For the final vision of the weekend, fast forward to Waikiki. It’s a little past midnight a few hours after the end of the second game and a group of about 20 teenage boys are seen crossing the street directly in front of the beach. The players were from De La Salle. The boys had not even seen the beach since they arrived. Now that the game was over and the win was achieved, it was finally okay to have some fun.
More Hawaii vs California football notes
*Also closely monitoring the De La Salle players and coaches during the trip was former Contra Costa Times prep writer Neil Hayes, who was working on a book. His book was published in 2003 and then several years later after Ladouceur retired in 2012 it was made into the movie “When The Game Stands Tall.”
*The first-ever California vs Hawaii football game was held in 1925 when St. Louis topped San Mateo, 40-0. In those days, teams had to travel by ship so it took until 1966 for the second game, which was when St. Louis defeated St. Francis of Mountain View, 39-14. St. Francis also was the first California team to beat a Hawaii team with a 6-0 win in 1970 over Kaimuki.
*While St. Louis did not end De La Salle’s national record win streak 20 years ago, the Crusaders did end the state’s longest win streak in a 1991 matchup at the Shawn Akina Classic that we attended with a 30-13 victory over Bakersfield. At the time, the Drillers had a 39-game win streak. De La Salle had a 34-game win streak end in the 1991 CIF North Coast Section finals by Pittsburg later that year and then didn’t lose again until 2004.
*In the year before Bakersfield’s 39-game win streak was snapped in Hawaii by St. Louis, the Crusaders had their own 55-game win streak end with a 40-0 loss to Canyon of Canyon Country. Cal Lee was the head coach of the Crusaders at the time and had a record of 13-1-1 against California teams during his first tenure as the school’s head coach (which ended in 2001). Harry Welch coached the Cowboys and would later get a win over De La Salle in 2006 to win the first three state titles that he gained at three different schools.
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