Saint Louis quarterback AJ Bianco to share HHSAA championship night with hometown Lahainaluna team

Cover2 HS Football

Both games of Thursday night’s HHSAA championship doubleheader will hold a special place in AJ Bianco’s heart.

Of course, there’s the nightcap and main event, which features Kahuku and Saint Louis at 7 p.m. Bianco will quarterback the Crusaders as they aim for their fifth straight HHSAA Open Division title in what is the most anticipated Hawaii state championship game in years.

All the latest sports news from Hawaii’s sports station

In the contest before the Open championship, ‘Iolani and Bianco’s hometown Lahainaluna team will take the field for the HHSAA Division I title game at 3 p.m. Many of Bianco’s close friends play for the Lunas.

“It’s a dream come true,” Bianco said of sharing Thursday night with Lahainaluna. “I mean, that’s still my hometown. I love those boys and I’ll be rooting for them.”

Bianco was in the eighth grade when he relocated from Maui to Oahu in order to enroll at Saint Louis. The Lahaina native says the move was challenging at first, but after five years with the Crusader brotherhood, he’s made another set of friends for life.

“It was difficult the first year just coming over, switching schools, having to make new friends,” Bianco said. “But I met some great friends over here, a lot of guys took me under their wing and I’ve had such a great experience over here and I look forward to capping it off Thursday night.”

Like many Crusaders before him, Bianco had to wait his turn before becoming QB1 for the Men of Kalaepohaku. On Thursday, the senior will join recent names such as Jayden de Laura, Chevan Cordeiro, Tua Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota as Crusader quarterbacks to start in a state title game.

“It means a lot just having this opportunity,” said Bianco, who is committed to Hawaii but has yet to sign. “But this is a team sport. It’s gonna take a total team effort for us to come out on top.

“This is a new team, this is a new year. What the team’s done in the past, that’s great but we gotta cement our own legacy and we gotta be able to finish the job in front of us.”

In his first and only year as the starting quarterback for Saint Louis, Bianco has completed 175 of his 253 passes for 2,517 yards and 14 touchdowns at an efficient 69.1 percent clip, according to Hawaii Prep World. He’s also the team’s leading rusher, accumulating 494 yards on 104 carries with 11 touchdowns.

Last Saturday, Saint Louis’ sixth consecutive state title game appearance almost didn’t come to be. In their first game since Nov. 5, the Crusaders had to rally from behind to top Mililani 27-25 in the Open Division semifinals. Bianco finished 14-for-22 for 179 yards, engineering a late drive that led to Lason Napuunoa’s game-winning field goal with 5:47 left in the fourth quarter. Bianco also ran 16 times for a total of 62 yards and a touchdown.

“He did a nice job leading the team. A little rusty not having played for six, seven weeks,” Saint Louis head coach Ron Lee said. “But he needed this game and he’s gotta spread the ball out a little bit. Because of Mililani, he had to run more. We want him to get the ball out a lot quicker.”

Saint Louis’ 2021 team is 6-3 heading into Thursday’s state championship game with two losses to Kamehameha and a season-opening loss to Bishop Gorman. During the program’s string of four consecutive titles from 2016 to 2019, the Crusaders lost just two games during that span. After no HHSAA champions were crowned during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saint Louis still hold the title of four-time defending football state champion. Although the Crusaders have lost more than they’ve been accustomed to this season, they’re still right where they want to be: One win away from extending the dynasty.

“This is what you put in all the work for, all the hours in the weight room, all the practices even before the year started. This is the main goal: The state championship,” Bianco said. “We’re gonna give it everything we’ve got Thursday night.”

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Bears could be without 3 coordinators when they host Vikings
February 01 2022 05:41 pm