By: Wes Nakama
Punahou may be the reigning ILH football champion, but its 42-28 victory Saturday night over upset-minded Saint Louis showed a repeat title should not be considered just a foregone conclusion.
The victory improved the Buff ‘n Blue to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the ILH. Saint Louis, which led 20-14 late in the second quarter at Farrington’s Skippa Diaz Stadium, fell to 2-4 and 0-1.
But in defeat, the Crusaders were impressive especially on offense, racking up 370 total yards in a balanced attack (222 yards passing, 148 rushing). More importantly, Saint Louis grabbed surprising leads of 6-0, 12-7 and 20-14 in the first half, before Punahou finally went out in front for good at 21-20 on Carson Beard’s extra point following Ty McCutcheon’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Zion White just 28 seconds before intermission.
“They got us out of rhythm, they did a great job and we respect our opponents,” Buff ‘n Blue coach Nate Kia said. “Especially in league (play) — Punahou, Saint Louis and Kamehameha … we see each other so often, these are very important games for us. So we know we’re going to get each other’s best shot.”
Punahou finally got some breathing room by stretching the lead to 35-20 after two third quarter TD’s — the first an 8-yard pass from McCutcheon to White three minutes in, and the second a 9-yard throw from McCutcheon to Astin Hange with 1:38 remaining. But the Crusaders were not done yet, closing it to 35-28 after Kaunaoa Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Titan Lacaden followed by Kaeo Apduhan’s run to convert the two-point conversion just 57 seconds into the fourth quarter.
But the Buff ‘n Blue promptly responded with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive culminating in McCutcheon’s 26-yard TD pass to Hange with 8:24 left. Lacaden returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to set up a Saint Louis drive that advanced to the Punahou 25, but a holding penalty and then a sack pushed the Crusaders back, and they ended up failing to convert on fourth down.
Later, Saint Louis’ final drive ended with Aiden Takuma’s end zone interception, with just over a minute remaining.
“Saint Louis is a great team every year, no matter what the people are saying,” said McCutcheon, who finished with 25 completions in 36 completions for 427 yards and five touchdowns. “They always come out with a good scheme and they have great skill players and defensive players as well, so we knew they would be a great team. We have two seniors down right now (with injury), so we had two freshmen offensive linemen (Joe Kipapa and Simi Lakalaka-Sole) who came in and stepped up huge. That was big-time for us, it’s great to see that from them, and our senior leadership on the offensive line.”
Starting running back Ala’i Williams also has been sidelined recovering from the flu, so the Buff ‘n Blue ground game was limited to 32 yards on 12 rushes.
The Crusaders’ offense, meanwhile, looked to be working on all cylinders for much of the game, with Kamakawiwo’ole finishing 25 of 42 for 222 yards and three touchdowns, and Kaeo Apduhan supplementing the air attack with 66 yards rushing on 14 carries, including one TD.
Punahou’s defense did hold Saint Louis scoreless in the third quarter, which proved to be the difference in the game.
“There’s always in-game adjustments, so the main thing was to clean up our tackling, because they have some great athletes,” Kia said. “We gotta make tackles in space, do our assignments … it always goes back to the fundamentals.”
Photos: Lori McKeown
MAHALO TO THESE SPONSORS FOR PROUDLY SUPPORTING HAWAI’I HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS & HELPING TO PROVIDE US WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO CONTINUE TO COVER ATHLETES AND SCHOOLS HERE IN THE 808.
You might also be interested in…
By: Tiff Wells 1 – A win for the Group of 5. An unseeded team out of a mid-major conference, the Automatic Qualifying Hawai`i Rainbow Wahine out of the Big…
By Wes Nakama Despite missing 17 free throws on 8-for-25 shooting from the line, ‘Iolani held on to defeat Westside Christian (Tigard, Ore.), 35-32, Friday evening at Radford’s James Alegre…