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Kahuku shuts down Punahou, 20-0, to repeat as State Champion

Saturday, November 26, 2022


By: Wes Nakama

MILILANI — In a masterful all-around performance even more convincing than the final score, the Kahuku Red Raiders shut down Punahou, 20-0, Friday night to repeat as First Hawaiian Bank Open Division Football Champion.

An energetic and vocal overflow crowd of about 4,500 at John Kauinana Stadium watched the Red Raiders clearly win all three phases of the game to complete a 12-2 season. Their two losses came to St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), which is ranked No. 2 in the nation by MaxPreps, and St. Frances (Baltimore), which is No. 13. Kahuku is ranked No. 26.

“We’re a team, and that was on full display tonight,” Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho said. “They got everything they deserved. It’s not like we woke up one day and said, ‘Let’s just be great.’ It’s been a process. And what you saw tonight was the end game of that process.”

Punahou, making its first state title game appearance since 2014, ends its season at 9-2, with both losses coming to Kahuku. The Buff ‘n Blue fell short, 20-17, at the Red Raiders’ Carlton E. Weimer Field on Sept. 3, but saw an even better version Friday night.

Kahuku quarterback Waika Crawford orchestrated a dynamic offense that sometimes featured an option running game that was only tried sparingly this season. Carvalho ran it like a skilled veteran, helping the Red Raiders rack up 260 yards on the ground, including 69 yards himself on nine carries. Fullback Va’aimalae Fonoti led all rushers with 112 yards on 23 carries, and backup Lamana Tapusoa added 43 yards on seven carries.

Carvalho said Kahuku had practiced running the option attack a bit throughout the season, but felt the state title game was the perfect time to use it.

“We added that in specifically, because that put the ball into our playmakers’ hands,” he said. “We could go to our running back, we could keep it (with the quarterback), we could option it to Kaikai (Carvalho) or Mana (Carvalho). So they had to defend everything. That’s what we wanted to do,  confuse them that way on who is going to get the ball, instead of just teeing off on one person. 

“We had it (in the playbook), but we saved it. We knew the end game.”

After forcing a three-and-out on Punahou’s first possession, the Red Raiders marched 68 yards in 12 plays, capped by Crawford’s 1-yard quarterback sneak. Kaikai Carvalho’s extra point gave Kahuku a quick 7-0 lead with 4:52 remaining in the first quarter.   

In the second quarter, the Red Raiders advanced to the Buff ‘n Blue 4-yard line, but had to settle for Carvalho’s 21-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with five minutes left in the half. After forcing another three-and-out, Kahuku took over at the Punahou 49, then scored on Crawford’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Mana Carvalho, followed by Kaikai Carvalho’s PAT to take a 17-0 lead into halftime.

The Red Raiders held the Buff ‘n Blue’s vaunted offense to a mere 53 yards in the first half, including just 18 rushing. Punahou running back Ala’i Williams, who set a state tournament record with 237 rushing yards against Mililani on Nov. 18, was held to just three yards on five carries on Friday.

“Last week he set a state record, (but) tonight, he barely had anywhere to run,” Sterling Carvalho said. “The thing is, we’re fast, strong, relentless. And not just on one play — every play, all game long. And so it wears on a team.”

Kahuku also took away the deep pass routes, limiting senior quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele to 16 completions in 33 attempts for 129 yards, with a long of 22 yards.

“We’re a team — we’re a team in the front, at the second level, in the secondary,” Sterling Carvalho said. “When you play Kahuku, you have to play against the team (not one unit).”

The Red Raiders extended the lead to 20-0 on Carvalho’s 40-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter, and the Buff ‘n Blue fumbled away its best scoring opportunity at the 2-yard line midway through the fourth quarter — one of three lost fumbles for Punahou.

Crawford finished with 15 completions in 27 attempts for 177 yards and one touchdown, with one interception, and added 69 yards rushing on nine carries. But Sterling Carvalho said statistics alone do not tell the story of this Kahuku team.

“We’re not about individual stats, we’re just a body of great student-athletes,” he said. “We don’t play for individual accolades. We play for each other, and that’s the biggest thing, when you have a team that is willing to play for each other … that’s why we won.”

Photos by: Lori McKeown

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