Kahuku, Punahou to meet again for D1 championship
Kahuku RB Aofaga Wily carries the ball against Farrington. ScoringLive file photo
It seems everything else was a formality. Since their Aug. 18 meeting on the North Shore, it has been anticipated that Kahuku and Punahou would meet again. They are, but this time for the First Hawaiian Bank Division I state football title. Kickoff is about 7 p.m. Friday at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium. With their convincing semifinal wins last week, the Red Raiders (11-0) and Buffanblu (8-2), No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the ScoringLive/OC 16 Power Rankings, are clearly the best two teams in the state and will appropriately meet for title for the second year in a row. Kahuku has been somewhat of a nemesis for Punahou. The Red Raiders are going for their seventh title in their ninth try. The Buffanblu are looking for their second crown in four appearances. Their other two title games resulted in losses to Kahuku, 28-21 in 2005, and 30-24 last year. For Punahou, the losses were agonizingly close. In their preseason meeting, the teams gave a preview of what was to come. Punahou quarterback Larry Tuileta passed for 224 yards and one touchdown on 17-of-38 passing and receiver Kanawai Noa had seven catches for 100 yards and a TD. Kahuku running back Aofaga Wily rushed for 225 yards and three second-half TDs to rally the Red Raiders from a 13-0 half-time deficit to a 21-13 win. But the Buffanblu played without Butkus Award candidate, LB Isaac Savaiinaea. Both teams have high-powered offenses, yet have the defenses to keep the game from getting out of hand, as evident from their preseason meeting. Punahou's offense is balanced with Tuileta's passing and RB Ryan Tuiasoa's running. The balance is what keeps Tuiasoa sort of under the radar. Wily and Farrington's tandem of Abraham Silva and Tyler Taumua have the glamour numbers as 1,000-yard rushers because their offenses are geared toward them. But Punahou's balanced attack is what keeps defenses on their heels. Kahuku's offense is centered around the run. Wily and his huge offensive line just makes it quite obvious for the Red Raiders to pound the ball down after down. Yet, it is that single dimension that opens up the surprise pass by Lasi Livai, usually in some crucial situation. Last year, the Buffanblu switched from their usual three-man front to a five-man in anticipation of the run. Livai threw two TD passes. And when starting safety Kawehena Johnson shows up on offense, it is enough to cause a distraction. Defenses must anticipate the ball getting to this playmaker's hands. And all that does is loosen the box for Wily's running. Incidently, Johnson is Kahuku's leading receiver with 19 catches for 383 yards. The numbers do not put him among the leaders, but they usually put his team ahead. Kahuku's other offensive weapon is kicker Jake Samsel, whose 49-yard field goal last week tied a Division I state tournament record set by former Kahuku kicker Cameron Mercado. So ironic is that there was once a time when the kicking game was an achillies heel for Kahuku. Kahuku, which has won the most Division I titles with six, is the only team to repeat as champion. It has done it in 2000 and 2001 and in 2005 and 2006. A win for Punahou would bring its coach Kale Ane his 100th career coaching victory. He would be the 25th Hawaii coach to reach the milestone.