Raider Nation: Division I Kahuku hangs on
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARADVERTISER.COM Kahuku’s Aofaga Wily broke away from Punahou defenders for a long gain in the first quarter Friday night at Aloha Stadium. Wily rushed for 180 yards in the win.
An instant classic win for a classic championship team.
Aofaga Wily rushed for 180 yards as Kahuku’s smashmouth game did just enough to get past Punahou 30-24 in the final of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I State Football Championships on Friday night at Aloha Stadium.
Kahuku finished 12-1.
Wily, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior, finished with 180 yards on 27 carries, while backup Mahonilai Fakatou provided an insurance touchdown in the final minutes. Fakatou also caught a play-action pass for a touchdown on a play the Red Raiders had saved all season long.
"What we went through, all the things that happened, nothing’s a done deal. These boys are deserving of this. Punahou did a great job, Coach Kale (Ane) has a great program," Kahuku coach Reggie Torres said. "I’m proud of them."
Defensive tackle Mark Sauvao remembered the devastation of last year, when Kahuku was banned from postseason play by the Oahu Interscholastic Association because of an eligibility issue. That was followed by the death of a teammate, Keoni Tafuna.
"This is for all our seniors from last year. Hats off to Punahou, they’re a tough team. We’re all close friends," Sauvao said.
Ane had hoped for his program’s first state title since 2008.
"I hurt for the boys. We played a great game, made a lot of mistakes, but we never quit," he said. "You can’t do that against a great team like
Kahuku. We’re disappointed, but we’re proud of their effort."
Kahuku surprised the Buffanblu with early play-action strikes by Lasi Livai. Kawehena Johnson and Bronson Beatty (interception) sparked the defensive secondary, while Johnny Tapusoa and Benneton Fonua led the front seven with six tackles each. Mason Kualii-Moe added five tackles and an interception.
Steven Lakalaka rushed for 64 yards and scored twice on fourth-down receptions down the stretch for Punahou. Isaac Savaiinaea had a team high 14 tackles, and DeForest Buckner added eight.
A crowd of 20,058 roared from start to finish as Punahou rallied from a 24-point deficit and was on the cusp of completing the comeback in the final quarter. The Buffanblu (11-3) got within 24-17 with 6:57 left after running back Lakalaka hauled in a 24-yard alley-oop toss from Larry Tuileta in the end zone.
Kahuku, which had gone scoreless since taking an early 24-0 lead, drove across midfield as Punahou burned timeouts. Fakatou then burst up the gut on third and 1 for a 30-yard touchdown with 1:47 left.
That seemed to be enough, but Punahou drove downfield, using a 30-yard pass from Tuileta to Malik Johnson to set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to Lakalaka. Lakalaka caught the ball at the 4, was hit but kept his feet and bulled through two defenders to nab the pylon with 24 seconds remaining.
Down by six, the Buffanblu attempted an onside kick, but Kaimi Fairbairn’s tricky left-footed try only went 5 yards, and Kahuku’s Devailo Motuga dove on the ball. Kahuku then took a knee to secure its first state title since 2006.
"This is for everyone from last year, this is for them," said defensive back/wide receiver Mekeli Fiso, who made a remarkable diving touchdown catch in the first half.
The Red Raiders, buoyed by a huge contingent of fans — probably more than 10,000 — were on fire from the get-go.
While Punahou failed to get further than the Kahuku 35-yard line, the Red Raiders roared to a 24-0 lead.
Kekahu Aluli’s 38-yard field goal opened the scoring with 6 minutes to go in the opening quarter.
Kahuku employed a torrent of stretch plays that had the Punahou defense on edge from sideline to sideline.
"It’s what they gave us, and with Faga’s speed, we took advantage of it. Our line trains for long drives, 14- to 16-play drives at practice at a minimum," Torres noted.
Wily’s biggest first-half gain, a 45-yard pickup as he cut back against the grain, was largely due to overpursuit by the Buffanblu.
That set up a 5-yard touchdown run through middle, by Wily, to give Kahuku a 10-0 lead with 3:26 left in the first quarter.
Punahou’s offense finally drove to the Kahuku 35-yard line, but Tuileta’s fourth-down pass was deflected by Tapusoa.
The Red Raiders needed just five plays to hit paydirt again. A pass interference call on a deep route by Johnson helped and a 24-yard gain by Wily on another stretch play was key.
Livai then executed a second-down play-action pass to Fakatou, who carried out the fake up the middle and sprinted untouched between the hashmarks before hauling in the spiral for a 23-yard touchdown. Kahuku led 17-0 with 9:55 to go in the half.
An interception and 25-yard return by Beatty set up the next score. Another second-down pass play by Kahuku, which normally will not pass early in a series, netted another touchdown. With Punahou committing eight defenders in the box to stop Wily, Livai’s pass to the left corner led Fiso, who made the diving grab despite tight coverage.
The Red Raiders led 24-0 with 5:52 remaining in the first half.
A coffin-corner punt by Fairbairn pinned Kahuku at its 2-yard line, and three plays later Quincy Marting’s hit forced a fumble that was recovered by Logan Hanohano, who then scored. Replays showed Fakatou appeared to be down — the ground may have caused the fumble — before losing the ball.
Punahou nibbled away, getting a 25-yard field goal from Fairbairn to cut it to 24-10 with 3:55 left in the third quarter. Then the Buffanblu thwarted a Kahuku drive when Marting deflected an end-zone pass, and the ball ricocheted off his foot and helmet while he defended the fade pattern. Zach Hernandez came up with the pick.
The Buffanblu then made a game of it on Lakalaka’s consecutive touchdowns.
KAHUKU 30, PUNAHOU 24
Punahou (11-3) 0 7 3 14—24
Kahuku (12-1) 10 14 0 6—30
First Quarter Kah—FG Kekahu Aluli 38, 6:00 Kah—Wily Aofaga 5 run (Aluli kick), 3:26 Second Quarter Kah—Mahonilai Fakatou 23 pass from Lasi Livai (Aluli kick), 9:55 Kah—Mikeli Fiso 16 pass from Livai (Aluli kick), 5:52 Pun—Logan Hanohano 0 fumble recovery (Kaimi Fairbairn kick), 1:25 Third Quarter Pun—FG Fairbairn 25 Fourth Quarter Pun—Steven Lakalaka 24 pass from Larry Tuileta (Fairbairn kick), 6:57 Kah—Fakatou 30 run (kick failed), 1:47 Pun—Lakalaka 6 pass from Tuileta (Fairbairn kick), 0:24
First downs 13 16
Total net yards242303
Time of possession22:3825:22
RUSHING—PUNAHOU: Lakalaka 13-64, Tuileta 1-4, Malik Johnson 2-0, Tim Kamana 1-(-6). KAHUKU: Wily 27-180, Fakatou 8-39, Kawehena Johnson 3-14, PJ Liua 2-12, Sterling Moe 1-3, Livai 3-(-18). PASSING—PUNAHOU: Tuileta 22-41-3-180. KAHUKU: Livai 5-10-1-71. Johnson 1-2-0-6. RECEIVING—PUNAHOU: Johnson 5-56, Lakalaka 5-49, Kale Dyas 3-24, Taylor McClafferty 3-9, Noah Willey 2-17, Cody Lee 2-14, Ryan Tuiasoa 2-11. KAHUKU: Fiso 3-31, Fakatou 1-23, Johnson 1-14, Spencer Nagy 1-9.