By: Wes Nakama
Finding different paths to victory, Punahou turned to defense and big plays Saturday afternoon to hold off visiting Saint Louis, 24-10, and capture its second straight ILH football championship.
Senior receiver/return specialist Astin Hange scored two touchdowns and finished with 203 all-purpose yards at Alexander Field to help the Buff ‘n Blue improve to 7-2 and finish 4-0 in league play, earning them the ILH’s sole Open Division berth in next month’s state tournament. Saint Louis is league runner-up for the second straight year and ends its season at 4-5, 2-2.
“It’s just been a blessing to be a part of this team for my whole high school career, especially these past two years,” said Hange, a fast and shifty 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior who has made a verbal commitment to attend the Air Force Academy next year. “We’re just trying to set a legacy … We just want to go out victorious.”
As usual, the road to the ILH crown went through Saint Louis, which had won the previous six league titles before last year. The Crusaders threatened to upset Punahou in the teams’ Sept. 30 meeting at Farrington, leading 20-14 late in the second quarter before falling, 42-28.
This time, the teams played a scoreless first quarter before the Buff ‘n Blue took a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the second quarter on Ty McCutcheon’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Zion White followed by Carson Beard’s extra point. The short scoring drive started at the Crusaders’ 17 after Hange’s 46-yard punt return.
Punahou stretched it to 14-0 with 7:16 remaining in the half when McCutcheon threw a 1-yard TD pass to the left flank on first-and-goal, set up by Hange’s 44-yard reception from McCutcheon on third-and-9.
“We made stops and got the ball back, we did some good things (on defense),” Saint Louis coach Ron Lee said. “But we didn’t help the defense on offense. We didn’t have big plays … Punahou has those No. 1 (Noah Macapulay) and No. 2 (Hange), they’re dangerous as heck.”
The Buff ‘n Blue pushed the lead to 17-0 midway through the third quarter on Beard’s 39-yard field goal, but the Crusaders answered with a 14-play, 92-yard scoring drive capped by Kaunaoa Kamakawiwo’ole’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Nunuha on fourth-and 4. Makena Kauai’s PAT cut it to 17-7 with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Then it was Punahou’s time to quickly respond, which it did when McCutcheon found Hange over the middle on a tipped pass, with Hange sprinting to the end zone for a 60-yard score. Beard’s extra point made it 24-7 just 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Saint Louis cut it to 24-10 on Makani Markle-Kane’s 32-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, and the Crusaders got the ball back and reached midfield with under three minutes remaining. But a sack and then an incomplete pass on fourth-and-20 killed that drive and allowed the Buff ‘n Blue to eventually run out the clock.
“They did a nice job, they changed up their defense from the last time we played them, and it took us awhile to figure out what they were doing,” Lee said. “Give them credit, they played well, they played hard … With our guys, I like the way they battled. It’s been kind of a struggle, with our quarterback and receivers trying to get on the same page. But they hung in there, (through) a lot of injuries, they stuck together and played well.”
Kamakawiwo’ole finished with 32 completions in 52 attempts for 344 yards and one touchdown, but was sacked eight times and hurried a bunch more.
“We started off watching a lot of film on them, and one big change we made was we did a lot of stunts in this game,” said Punahou defensive end Kekai Burnett, who had two sacks. “We noticed that when we do stunts, it works on them. That was a big thing. We had to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
Hange, who finished with five catches for 137 yards and 66 yards on two returns, said game planning was important in all phases.
“We had a hard schedule this whole year, especially in the actual ILH, playing each team twice,” Hange said. “It just gives you another opportunity to scheme again and (find) what we didn’t do in the first place. I feel like our offense and defense schemed well for this second game, we did better than the first game.”
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