Running away with it
BRUCE ASATO / email@example.com
Kahuku football players hoisted the trophy after the Red Raiders won the State Division I Football Championship title Friday night at Aloha Stadium.
Punahou was closing in on defending champion Kahuku, but the Red Raiders simply went into destroy mode.
Kahuku, which edged Punahou in last year’s final by six points, turned a close game into a second-half runaway on Friday, rolling to a 42-20 win over the Buffanblu in the Division I final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships at Aloha Stadium.
A crowd of 17,820 arrived after a midafternoon storm with lightning that caused a delay.
Aofaga Wily scored on touchdown runs of 57, 38 and 25 yards and finished with 188 rushing yards on 26 carries.
“We came out unfocused (in the second half), but we got back on track,” Wily said. “We had great practices, perfect practices this week and that helped us in the game. I’m proud of Malosi (Alapa) for adjusting to fullback. I’m proud of the whole line.”
Alapa moved to the backfield from left guard last week due to an injury to regular starter P.J. Liua (ankle).
Versatile senior Kawehena Johnson picked off two passes by Punahou’s Larry Tuileta — who had thrown just one interception all season — and scored on a trick play before the half.
“We just listened to our coaches. They put us in the right places,” Johnson said. “Nothing can beat teamwork. Nothing can beat family. There is nothing more important than that.”
Kahuku’s lockdown defense limited Tuileta to 171 yards and zero touchdowns on 17-for-32 accuracy with three picks. The state’s leading receiver, Kanawai Noa, finished with six catches for 82 yards.
The sophomore failed to score in a game for the first time this season, blanketed by cornerbacks Jayven Mohetau and Lasselle Thompson all night.
“It looked like we had it,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said of his team’s second-half rally that made it 21-14. “We were coming back and we had some momentum, but we made too many mistakes and they capitalized on them. That’s why they are champs.”
Kahuku (12-0), led by coach Reggie Torres, finished with 346 total yards, including 235 on the ground, with just one turnover. Punahou (8-3) had a season-low 278 yards with six giveaways.
“We knew they were an explosive offense. Just missed assignments killed us,” said linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea (six tackles). “With a team like Kahuku, you have to be perfect in everything you do, but I’m proud of the way we played. Congrats to Kahuku.”
Linebackers Matai Paselio and Johnny Tapusoa anchored the Big Red defense.
But it wasn’t just about stellar defense and a persistent ground game for Kahuku. It was, as it was in the OIA Red title game, about deception and trickeration. The Red Raiders used a hook-and-ladder play near the end of the first half for a touchdown that covered 64 yards. That gave Kahuku a 21-0 lead, deflating the spirit of Punahou and its large crowd of yellow-shirt-wearing fans.
“It was a good throw and a good catch,” Johnson said.
The first quarter was a defensive stalemate, but Wily bolted free on a stretch play for a 53-yard touchdown to give Kahuku a 7-0 lead with 9:27 to go in the first half.
Kahuku’s second touchdown was set up by a muffed punt return by the Buffanblu. A high, short punt by Mohetau glanced off the leg of a Punahou blocker and was recovered by the Red Raiders at their 45-yard line. Six plays later, the Red Raiders lined up to punt, but Johnson, an up back, called for a direct snap and raced 11 yards for a first down.
On the next play, Lasi Livai fake-pumped to a sideline target, then launched a 29-yard bomb to Thompson for a touchdown and a 14-0 Kahuku lead with 2:27 to go in the half.
After getting the ball back with 16 seconds before intermission, Livai connected with Will Cravens for the hook-and-ladder touchdown play to Johnson.
In the third period, Punahou went to a pistol, power-I set to bash through on fourth and 1. Ryan Tuiasoa followed that 26-yard gain with a 25-yard touchdown, putting Punahou on the scoreboard for the first time with 5:51 left in the third.
That proved to be a momentum-changer, especially with Tuiasoa running the left side behind lineman Reupena Fitisemanu (6-0, 265), who lined up at fullback on every play of the series.
After Savaiinaea stuffed Wily on a fourth and 1, Punahou regained possession at the Kahuku 41-yard line. Eight plays later, Tuiasoa followed Fitisemanu through a massive hole and scored easily on an 8-yard touchdown, and the Buffanblu trailed 21-14 with 1:10 to go in the third quarter.
Punahou’s defense had Kahuku facing third and 16 on the next series when Livai, who opened the game with four incompletions, fired a strike to Thompson for a crucial 22-yard gain and a first down.
Three plays later, Wily broke off the right side and raced 38 yards for a touchdown, giving Kahuku a 28-14 lead.
Before Punahou’s offense got back on the field, Kahuku’s Soli Afalava stripped the ball from kick returner Keanu Chee, and Cravens hustled after the ball for a 6-yard fumble return and a touchdown.
Kahuku led 35-14 with 9:40 remaining.
Johnson, who played all over the field once again, picked off a long pass by Tuileta intended for Noa and returned the ball 35 yards. Two plays later, Wily turned the left corner and broke through a tackle for a 25-yard touchdown, his third of the night.
Kahuku 42, Punahou 20
At Aloha Stadium
Kah—Aofaga Wily 53 run (Jake Samsel kick)
Kah—Lasselle Thompson 29 pass from Lasi Livai (Samsel kick)
Kah—Kawehena Johnson 53 pass from Livai (Samsel kick)
Pun—Ryan Tuiasoa 25 run (Kainoa McDonald kick)
Pun—Tuiasoa 8 run (McDonald kick)
Kah—Wily 38 run (Samsel kick)
Kah—Will Cravens 6 fumble return (Samsel kick)
Kah—Wily 25 run (Samsel kick)
Pun—Tuiasoa 3 run (run failed)
First downs 16 13
Rushes-yards 27-107 47-235
Passing yards 171 111
Total yards 278 346
Punts-Avg. 6-37.2 8-37.5
Fumbles-lost 4-3 2-1
Sacks by-yards 0-0 3-21
Penalties-Yards 5-37 9-71
Possession time 20:48 27:12
RUSHING—Punahou: Ryan Tuiasoa 22-118, Heisman Hosoda 1-1, Larry Tuileta 4-(-12). Kahuku: Wily 26-188, Johnson 5-30, Devailo Galeai 4-12, Spencer Elmore 2-3, Pupi Siilata 3-3, Soli Afalava 1-2, Malosi Alapa 1-2, Livai 1-2, Quayd Ah You 1-0, TEAM 1-(-2), Makoa Fonoimoana 1-(-5).
PASSING—Punahou: Tuileta 17-32-3-171. Kahuku: Livai 4-9-0-111, Johnson 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Punahou: Kanawai Noa 6-82, Tuiasoa 4-49, Trent Sitar 2-6, K.J. Sekona 2-6, Dylan Combs 1-12, Keanu Chee 1-11, Dakota Torres 1-5. Kahuku: Thompson 2-49, Cravens 1-11, Galeai 1-(-2), Johnson 0-53.