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Punahou Firing on All Cylinders to Take Down Mililani, 52-24

Saturday, November 19, 2022


By: Nick O’Connor

Punahou was able to have a near flawless four quarters as they took down Mililani, 52-24, in the semi-final round of the First Hawaiian Bank Division I-Open State Tournament, on Friday night at John Kauinana Stadium in Mililani. 

The Buff ‘n Blu may have not been to the state championship since 2014 but with full control and a record breaking night, they will make their return next week to take on the defending champions of Kahuku.

“It was a big game for us, winning this game meant that we would be back in the state championship. Our hard work at practice paid off today,” said junior running back ‘Ala’i Williams.

Williams was not only able to help the Buff ‘n Blu back to the championship game but he had a record breaking night. He was able to burst through gaping holes created by his highly touted offensive line, break through tackles, and jump through the air over defenders. Williams carried the ball 29 times for four touchdowns and compiled a state tournament record of 238 rushing yards. 

Punahou was able to display exceptional execution in all facets of the game. They were able to control the ball for over 29 minutes of the game, the defense was able to take the ball away two times, and the special teams was able to make impact plays that continued to put them in position to continue their season.

Despite The Son of Oahu looking in full control, it does not take away from the efforts and ability that Mililani was able to show. 

On Punahou’s John Keawe-Sagapolutele’s first pass attempt of the game, the Trojans defense was able to intercept the ball in the middle of the field. Ezekiel Rodrigues was able to leap up, with a brace covering the entirety of one of his arms, to make the interception. This big play set up Mililani for their only lead of the game with a 25-yard field goal from Makel Paiva with 4:49 on the clock in the first quarter.

Not long after, Punahou had put a plan in place and they were able to execute that plan. Develop the run. They methodically marched down the field on the legs of Williams and Iosepa Lyman. The threat of the run game and a gutsy call on fourth down (Punahou finished 5-5 on down), created a play action pass that resulted in a touchdown score.

Sagapolutele found Christian Kauhane for a 23-yard touchdown pass to give the Buff ‘n Blu a 7-3 lead after the point after attempt. A lead they would never give back, as that scoring drive would be the first of 6 consecutive scoring drives put together by the Punahou offense. 

Mililani’s senior Raymond Roller himself a night as well. Roller closed out his senior campaign with 150 receiving yards on 8 receptions and a touchdown. His lone touchdown came in the second quarter as the Trojans looked to get the momentum to shift back to their sideline. On a third and long situation, Roller caught the ball out in the flat and scorched down the field for an electric 87-yard touchdown run. 

The momentum swing was shut down only 20 seconds later. On the kickoff return Christian Kauhane of Punahou returned the ball 47 yards and tight roped out of bounds at the Trojans 20-yard line. On the very next play, Noah Macapulay caught his first of two touchdown passes, bringing the score to 24-10.

The defense from the Buff ‘n Blu also proved to be a problem for the Trojans.

“I think our chemistry as a defense has grown tremendously and our bond is unbreakable,” said GianCarlo Rufo. Rufo was able to get to the quarterback twice, one of which a strip sack that Punahou was able to recover. 

The defensive line was able to consistently fill running lanes and the linebacker core was able to bring pressure into the backfield throughout the night. Between the trio of linebackers GianCarlo Rufo, Alika Cavaco-Amoy, and Blayne Shiraki they were able to tally 20 tackles.

“We watched a lot of film on Mililani to get a better idea of their tendencies and key players. We were able to identify what they were most likely to run,” said Alika Cavaco-Amoy who tallied 9 total tackles himself. 

In efforts to keep control of the game, Punahou opened up the second half catching the Trojans off guard. Jordan Kapisi was able to place a perfect pooch kick that Kauhane was able to recover. Kapisi was also perfect on the point after attempts going 7-7, while adding a 29-yard field goal. 

Mililani was actually able to out score Punahou in the third quarter. The Trojan quarterback Emana Tarape did his best to render any hope in the second half as they began to find glimpses of success in the passing game. 

Tarape showed a lot of poise being able to stand his ground in the pocket and deliver accurate throws as pressure kept coming. He finished the game 17-28 with 297 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. 

Tarape was able to find Onosai Salanoa for a long 59-yard touchdown pass down the left side of the field with 5:21 to go in the third period. Then with 1:34 left in the quarter, as the pocket was collapsing, Tarape stood in there and threw a ball to the back shoulder of Gavin Hunter at the front of the endzone. Hunter was able to fight off the defender to make the catch and bring the score to 38-24, in favor of Punahou. 

Hunter also had a third quarter interception for the Trojans. 

The final dagger was brought in the fourth quarter by none other than Punahou’s big running back. Williams was able to score two late touchdowns that pushed him over the 200-yard mark. To cap off the night Williams ran for the second longest touchdown run in open tournament history, as he burst through the hole for a 78 yard run bringing on the final score of 52-24. 

Photos by: Grant Shishido

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