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Punahou Gets Season Opener Win vs. Moanalua, 35-0

Sunday, August 14, 2022 | By Nick Abramo

With a bruising running game and sturdy defense, Punahou got its football season underway in high gear Saturday night with a 35-0 non-league victory over Moanalua.

Alai Williams and Iosepa Lyman shared the ball-carrying duties, keeping the chains moving all night, scoring two touchdowns apiece and combining for 127 rushing yards.

Whenever the Buff ’N Blue (1-0) got into the red zone, the ball was put into the hands of one of those two to finish it off, allowing the visitors from inner Honolulu to build leads of 21-0 at halftime and 28-0 early in the third quarter.

Photo by Grant Shishido

“The running game was effective,” Punahou second-year coach Nate Kia said. “I think the wind coming in from the valley affected both teams in terms of the passing game. It was a tough game and more competitive than the score actually showed. It required a certain amount of grit to get a victory out of this.”

And even though senior quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele wasn’t lights-out accurate, he was efficient, throwing for 191 yards, including 92 on seven receptions by Astin Hange.

In the first quarter, Moanalua failed to take advantage of two Sagapolutele interceptions by two freshmen — Jeremy Garner and Josiah Kahue-Antone. 

But what really hurt Na Menehune (0-1) was their failure to punch it into the end zone twice after marching to the Punahou 10 and then the 5 right before halftime.

“Those two times in the red zone and we couldn’t capitalize,” Moanalua coach Vince Nihipali said. “It could have been (a lot closer) at halftime. Against a team like Punahou — a very good football team — you gotta convert when you have the chance.”

Another big play that helped give Punahou its needed cushion was Noah Macapulay’s 61-yard punt return that set up Lyman for a 2-yard TD run and a 21-point halftime edge.

“That was like a dagger,” Nihipali said.

Offensively, Moanalua had some success despite its inability to crack the end zone. Quarterback Cade Rodriguez threw for 120 yards and was only sacked once. Two Na Menehune receivers piled up the yardage — Gabe Wells with eight catches for 55 yards and Kingston Ishimine with four grabs for 73 yards.

Late in the game, Moanalua got as close as the Punahou 6 on Ishimine’s 50-yard gain on Tayden-Evan Kaawa’s pass, but once again could not score.

With 9:40 left in the game, Kaden Smith scored the Buff ’N Blue’s final touchdown on an 8-yard slant pass from backup quarterback Ty McCutcheon.

Photo by Grant Shishido

On the other side of the ball, Punahou defensive back Travis Ross led the way with two interceptions, two pass breakups and three tackles. Blayne Shiraki had eight tackles and fellow linebacker GianCarlo Ruffo made his presence felt with five tackles, three tackles for losses including two sacks, and three quarterback hurries.

“Our defense, we put in the work in the off-season and our chemistry got better since last year,” said Buff ’N Blue defensive lineman Kekai Burnett, who finished with a tackle for loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries. “And most of our starters this year started last year, so we’ve got that one year of experience already.”

Punahou, which went 1-4 a year ago, will try to double its win total of 2021 with a game at Castle next Friday.

That same night, Moanalua, which moved up to the OIA Open Division this season, will try to get its first win in a home game against Damien.

“It could have gone better,” Na Menehune’s Nihipali said. “But for the most part the boys played hard. They fought. I hope playing a team like Punahou makes us better. We’re beat up and I’m sure they’re beat up, too.”

Photos by: Grant Shishido

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