Top-ranked Kahuku survives scare from No. 5 Punahou to remain unbeaten


Sat, Sep 3, 2022 @ Kahuku [ 6:30 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Punahou (9-2-0) 3 0 3 1420
Kahuku (12-2-0) 0 6 0 2127

KAHUKU — Humbled but unbeaten. 

The top-ranked Kahuku football team survived a scare from fifth-ranked Punahou Saturday night, but managed to come away with a hard-fought 27-20 win before a crowd of about 2,000 fans at Carleton E. Weimer Field.

The Red Raiders (4-0) extended their win streak to 14 games with the win, but this one didn't come easy. The previously-undefeated Buffanblu (3-1) led for most of the contest, but saw the home team score the final 14 points, including Vaaimalae Fonoti's 13-yard touchdown run that broke a 20-all tie and gave Kahuku the lead for good with 52 seconds to play. 

Punahou went down swinging, however. It drove all the way to the Kahuku 4-yard line in the closing seconds, but on first-and-goal quarterback Ty McCutcheon was sacked by Nitus Auelus for an 11-yard loss and the Buffanblu were unable to get off another play as time expired. 

"We knew they were a good football team and this is the kind games that we need; we weren't tested all year and it's great for us to have this kind of game to see where we're really at," Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said. 

The Buffanblu had burned their final timeout just prior to Amelia's sack — just the second by the Red Raiders all night. 

Auelua described the final play: "In the huddle we were gonna send one ‘backer on the other side, because I had contain on the other side and we already knew that this quarterback could run so we wanted to make sure that we got the inside and the outside and they just tried to come to my side, tested me and made a mistake and I got him," he said. 

Punahou went ahead 20-13 with 7:56 remaining after McCutcheon eluded a pair of pass rushers on fourth-and-2 and heaved a pass downfield that found its way to Astin Hange for a 26-yard touchdown. 

Kahuku then orchestrated a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 1-yard TD run by Clyde Taulapapa with 4:17 to play. The drive included a fourth-down conversion (a 37-yard scamper on fourth-and-2 by Fonoti) and a third-down conversion (a 7-yard Taulapapa run on third-and-2). The score was tied at 20 after Zaden Mariteragi added the extra point. 

The Buffanblu drove to the Kahuku 37-yard line on their ensuing possession, but Alai Williams' quick kick on fourth down bounced into the end zone for a touchback. The Red Raiders then marched 80 yards in eight plays, capped by Fonoti's 13-yard TD run up the middle. 

"We had to battle through adversity. Things weren't going right in the first half for us and then we just settled down and we just played football," Carvalho said. 

"They really came at us in the beginning," Auelua said of the Buffanblu. "We expected to blow them out, but they really came out fighting, which was good, but we came through at the end so it feels good."

Punahou took an early lead with Jordan Kapisi's 35-yard field goal about three minutes into the game. 

Kahuku cashed in on a Viliamu Toilolo interception with a 2-yard Fonoti TD run just five plays later to pull ahead. The PAT was no good and the score remained 6-3 until the 7:47 mark of the third quarter, when Kapisi drilled a 24-yard field goal to even the score at 6 apiece. 

The Buffanblu reclaimed the lead one play into the fourth quarter with McCutcheon's 7-yard TD pass to Noah Macapulay, but the Red Raiders had an immediate answer. 

Manulele Ah You returned the ensuing Punahou kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and Mariteragi tacked on the extra point to tie it at 20. 

"That was a big momentum boost for us,. (The Buffanblu) scored, they had the lead, they had the momentum and we stole it right back with that return," Carvalho said.

Ah You took advantage of the Buffanblu being pushed back five yards on the kickoff for an illegal procedure penalty, but he revealed that if not for a last-second switch, he wouldn't have been on the field for the kickoff return. 

"I wasn't even supposed to go in but coach Sterling put me in and my teammates they all said, ‘watch the middle,' especially Tavian Hallums — he told me, ‘watch the middle' — so then it helped that they got penalized so they had to go back (five yards) and I knew the ball was going to come so I knew I had to return it and I just looked for the middle."

Ah You went nearly untouched on the scoring play. It came at the most opportune of times for the Red Raiders, who were sputtering for much of the night offensively with their top playmaker, Kainoa Carvalho, sidelined for a third consecutive game due to a high ankle sprain. 

"That was pretty big because on the sideline I felt like everyone was just doubting theirself already, so I knew something had to happen but I guess I'm just blessed to be the recipient of it," Ah You said. 

Kahuku finished with 398 yards of total offense. Quarterback Waika Crawford threw for 250 yards on 19-of-35 passing without an interception. Fonoti (10 carries for 82 yards, 2 TDs) and Taulapapa (17 for 51, TD) led the rushing attack, which averaged 5.1 yards per carry. 

Punahou posted 355 total yards. John-Keawe Sagapolutele started at quarterback and threw for 103 yards on 8-of-17 passing. He was intercepted twice before he was replaced in the second half by McCutcheon, who finished 18 of 24 for 191 yards. McCutcheon threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes and was not intercepted. 

"He did good," Punahou coach Nate Kia said of McCutcheon. "We're blessed to have some depth at that position so that if we need to make some adjustments, change, get a new flavor, get a new look at things and a new sets of eyes basically, we're able to do that."

Hange was a highlight reel at wide receiver for the Buffanblu. The junior hauled in nine receptions for 173 yards in the loss. Macaulay tallied eight grabs for 66 yards. 

Punahou passed for 13 of its 19 first downs. It was 7 of 15 on third-down conversions. 

"I just gotta say that we were just humbled. We all thought that we were going to come out here and just mop them all over the ground, but they humbled us and they showed us our weaknesses that we can strengthen," Ah You said. 

Kahuku entered the game averaging 49 points per game. It had allowed fewer than seven points per contest. 

The Red Raiders were 5 of 12 on third downs and 2 of 4 on fourth downs. They recorded 22 first downs and were penalized nine times for 94 yards. 

"I think they gave us good challenge. We needed it," Kia said. "That was a challenge that we need to see and to be honest, it was good for us going into league (play) because we needed to see some things and be able to make some adjustments that we're going to need to be able to make if we want to win the ILH."

It was the final non-league game on Punahou's schedule. 

The Buffanblu have a bye next week before they open the ILH Open Division regular season against Saint Louis on Sept. 17. 

Kahuku returns to OIA play Saturday night when it visits Campbell, before a Sept. 17 showdown against St. John Bosco in southern California. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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