Punahou runs over Mililani to reach first state final since 2014


Fri, Nov 18, 2022 @ Mililani [ 7:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Mililani (7-5-0) 3 7 14 024
Punahou (9-2-0) 7 24 7 1452

MILILANI — Punahou rolled the dice and Ala'i Williams cashed in Friday night.

The Buffanblu were a perfect 5-for-5 on fourth down as Williams churned out a career-high 237 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries to power Punahou to a 52-24 win over Mililani at John Kauinana Stadium in the semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank Open Division State Championships.

With the win Punahou advances to its first state title game appearance since 2014 where it will face reigning champion Kahuku, who defeated Campbell, 32-7, in the first semifinal. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the same venue next Friday.

The Buffanblu turned it over on their second play from scrimmage, but bounced back to score on their next five possessions to take a 31-10 lead at halftime. They remained aggressive after the break, recovering an onside kick that turned into another score to make it a 38-10 game at the 6:32 mark of the third quarter.

Mililani cut the deficit to 14 with two scores in the third quarter before Punahou settled down to put the game away in the final period of play. Williams helped seal the deal with his final four carries going for 126 yards and two TDs.

"We felt like we started strong and we were able to execute our game plan," said Punahou second-year coach Nate Kia. "(Mililani) came out hard, they threw a couple of wrinkles at us. They definitely competed hard. I felt like we finished off the first half well. The second half we didn't execute the way we wanted to, but then again we finished off the second half well. I'm just grateful we're moving on."

Williams' career-day was also the best rushing performance on the Open Division level in the state tournament.

"He was running hard," Kia said of Williams. "We've been feeding him all year. We have quite a few different weapons that we can use and when we call upon guys, they step and tonight we called on Ala'i and Ala'i delivered."

Punahou's first fourth down conversion of the night resulted in score. Facing a fourth-and-1 at the Mililani 23, John-Keawe Sagapolutele run the run-pass option to success, throwing a 23-yard scoring strike to Christian Kauhane, who got behind the defense after the secondary crept up to the line of scrimmage to play the pass. Jordan Kapisi tacked on the PAT to give Punahou a 7-3 lead with 1:11 remaining in the opening quarter.

"We're normally pretty aggressive," said Kia. "If we see something that's there, we'll go ahead and take it."

Williams' running ability helped set up the score as he had five carries for 30 yards on the possession.

"We work on a lot of RPOs at practice so when the run game is working, the pass game opens up and vice versa," said Williams.

The junior running back converted the Buffanblu's second fourth down try, taking a toss around the left side of the line for an 8-yard gain on fourth-and-3. After a defensive holding penalty against Mililani, Williams found the end zone from 10 yards out for his first scoring run of the game to extend Punahou's lead.

Punahou's next scoring drive came after a Mililani turnover when GianCarlo Rufo recorded a strip sack that was recovered by Faiafua Ioane at the Mililani 13-yard line. This set up Kapisi's 29-yard field goal to push the Buffanblu's lead to 14 points.

Mililani showed life on its next possession with Raymond Roller turning a short pass from Emana Tarape into a 87-yard TD to convert third-and-17. Makel Paiva's PAT cut Punahou's lead to 17-10 with 3:45 to play in the second quarter.

The Buffanblu quickly responded with a score of their own just 20 seconds later. Astin Hange returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Mililani 20 and Noah Macapulay scored on a wheel route down the left sideline on the very next play.

Punahou's third fourth down conversion of the night came on its last possession of the first half. Facing a fourth-and-3 with no timeouts, Sagapolutele found Macapulay over the middle to take the Buffanblu to the Mililani 12.

After the offense got to the line to spike the ball, Williams got loose up the middle and avoided a handful of drive-ending tackles before finding the end zone.

"I didn't know that we didn't have any timeouts, but luckily the hole was open and I hit it," said Williams.

The Buffanblu's final two fourth down conversions came on their first possession of the second half after they recovered their onside kick attempt. Iosepa Lyman converted both of those tries before Macapulay hauled in a 11-yard TD pass.

Tarape threw a 59-yard TD to Onosai Salanoa and a 13-yard TD to Gavin Hunter in the third quarter to keep Mililani in it, but the Punahou defense settled down to hold the Trojans to no points in the fourth quarter.

"I think we just had to calm down," said Rufo, who had two sacks and two more tackles for loss. "I think we were panicking a little bit in the third quarter, but coach talked to us, I talked to the team, just to stay calm because this is what we do. We've been in this situation before, it's nothing new to us. We just locked back in, calmed down and it showed in the fourth quarter."

Sagapolutele finished the game completing 17 of 23 passes for 156 yards and three TDs against one interception.

Tarape passed for 297 yards and three TDs in the Trojans' season-ending loss. Despite the score, he held his own against Punahou's pass rush and threw his lone pick of the game with under two minutes to play in regulation when Agenhart Ellis came down with the interception for the Buffanblu.

Safety Ezekiel Rodrigues led the Mililani defense with 12 total tackles (10 solo) and an interception on Punahou's opening possession.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected].

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