Sunday, September 4, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
Kahuku shook off a stiff challenge from Punahou and rallied back for a 27-20 nonleague football win on the North Shore Saturday night.
It was the 14th win in a row for the Red Raiders (4-0) dating back to last year, and it almost didn’t happen.
The Buff ’N Blue (3-1) were up 20-13 and looking like they could wrap up the victory against defending Open Division state champion Kahuku.
But somehow, some way, the Red Raiders found the answer.
On a fourth down play in its own territory with less than six minutes to go, Kahuku went for it, and the gamble paid off. A pitchout on the right side to Vaaimalae Fonoti worked for a 45-yard gain to the Punahou 25.
Employing their power package to great effect, the Red Raiders made it a 20-20 ballgame on Clyde Taulapapa’s 1-yard TD with 4:17 left.
The Buff ’N Blue’s next drive into Kahuku territory stalled, and after a punt, the Red Raiders put the winning drive together.
Into the offense came linebacker Liona Lefau, who caught a key first-down pass, leading to Fonoti’s 13-yard TD run — with Lefau and fellow linebacker Leonard Ah You blocking on the edges in the power package — that proved to be the winning points, 27-20, with only 0:52 to go.
But the game was far from over. Punahou backup quarterback Ty McCutcheon — on some key passes to Astin Hange and a quarterback keeper — got the Buff ’N Blue down to the Kahuku 4. But that’s when the final major play of the game happened — Nitus Auelua’s sack for the Red Raiders as the clock wound down to zero.
“It was a good learning experience for us heading into league (ILH) play,” Punahou coach Nate Kia said. “I felt pretty confident that we could beat these guys today and we should have. I hope to see them again later (at states). It was a great firefight. That’s what everybody wants to see, right?”
Auelua’s game-finishing sack was a long time coming for the senior defensive lineman.
“I didn’t get anything the whole game and I needed that,” he said. “They (the Buff ’N Blue) came out strong and we were not expecting that, but hey, we pulled through. We should have killed them, honestly. Every play, everybody gave their hardest and in the end we came through.”
In the late stages, Fonoti, who scored two touchdowns, listened to the wisdom of Lefau, who is a Texas commit and who won state defensive player of the year honors in that magical 2021 season.
“I do want to shout out to Liona because my mind was kind of rocky from the start,” Fonoti said. “Liona helped me to get my mind straight. To be able to do this as a team and step up and rise … without this, it would have been kind of heartbreaking.”
Hange had an amazing night for Punahou, catching nine passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, and shifty teammate Noah Macapulay was not far behind in numbers with eight receptions for 66 yards and a TD.
And Punahou’s defense was engaged in this particular war all night, despite just missing out.
“I think we played good,” Buff ’N Blue linebacker Ko’o Kia, the coach’s son, said. “We know we are capable of beating these guys and we’re capable of beating anybody. We gotta come back Monday (at practice) and get better. Respect to what they (the Red Raiders) did. They balled out. Hopefully, they make it to states with us.”
For Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho, the panic button was never close to his hand.
“We had a bad first half,” he said. “We made adjustments and were pretty much able to score on the possessions we wanted to score. We just had to be patient. And that’s what I like about my team and my coaches. We don’t panic. We’ve been here before. We understand the situation. We have the athletes to execute, so we just had to execute.”
Earlier, after a defensive 6-6 slugfest through three quarters, the Buff ’N Blue grabbed a 13-6 edge on Noah Macapulay’s 7-yard TD catch of a McCutcheon bullet with 11:56 left.
Then, after Manulele Ah You gave gave Kahuku a 13-13 tie with a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD, Punahou regained the lead, 20-13, on McCutcheon’s 26-yard TD throw to Hange.
“Punahou is a great team,” Carvalho added. “Well coached, well disciplined, and they’re going to be really good in the ILH and so I’m excited for them for the rest of the season. We may see them again and we’re looking forward to it. But we know we have a long season ahead so it’s one game at a time.”
Photos by Lori McKeown | https://www.lorimckeownphotography.com/
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