Top-ranked Kahuku posts shutout of No. 2 Punahou to claim Open Division state crown


Fri, Nov 25, 2022 @ Mililani [ 7:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Punahou (9-2-0) 0 0 0 00
Kahuku (12-2-0) 7 10 3 020

MILILANI — Call it Big Red domination. 

No. 1 Kahuku churned out 260 rushing yards and finished with 437 yards of total offense and pitched a shut out defensively to claim its 10th state crown in program history with its 20-0 win over No. 2 Punahou Friday night. 

A capacity crowd of more than 4,500 fans at Mililani's John Kauinana Stadium saw the Red Raiders (12-2) throttle the Buffanblu (9-2) in the title game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Open Division State Championships on a chilly evening in central Oahu. 

"Man, I wouldn't want to go out any other way. It's the best feeling ever, you know? Just what we dreamed of," said Kahuku quarterback Waika "Toa" Crawford, who factored into both of his team's touchdowns. 

Crawford ran in a touchdown from a yard out to open the scoring about seven minutes into the first quarter. He also threw a 13-yard TD pass to Kaimana Carvalho late in the second quarter. 

Crawford finished 15-of-27 passing for 177 yards with one interception. He also ran for 69 yards on nine carries. 

"We did enough passing to keep them honest, but when we needed to finish the game, our running game finished it and that's what we were able to do; when we need to run, we can run and when we need to pass, we pass," Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said. 

A week after the Red Raiders struggled offensively in their semifinal win over Campbell, they were far more successful sustaining their drives against the Buffanblu. 

Kahuku's opening possession covered 68 yards in 12 plays and took five minutes and 30 seconds off the clock. It culminated with Crawford's 1-yard TD run on a quarterback sneak, which came five plays after he scrambled for a 10-yard pick-up on fourth-and-6. 

Crawford acknowledged that there were a handful of broken plays for the Red Raiders early on. 

"A couple of them were actually run plays, but me and (running back Vaaimalae Fonoti) were on different pages, so I just followed through the hole he was supposed to go through," Crawford explained. 

After a Punahou three-and-out early in the second quarter, Kahuku put together a 14-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by Kainoa Carvalho's 21-yard field goal from the right hash. The possession took 5:24 off of the clock and largely kept the Buffanblu offense — which entered the game averaging more than 43 points and 425 yards per game — on the sideline. 

"It was big because it even allowed us to kill some time so they didn't have as much time to work and get back in the game, so it was just great keeping them off the field, giving our defense a break because they've been doing so good all season with staying on the field," Crawford said. 

Carvalho's field goal gave the Red Raiders a 10-0 lead with 5:01 left until halftime. They added to their lead with Crawford's 13-yard TD pass to Kaimana Carvalho just before the intermission. On the scoring play, Crawford stepped up in the pocket before he fired a pass to Carvalho, who was running across the back of the end zone, for the touchdown. 

"It was a slide protection right," Crawford recalled. "I rolled right, I was gonna hit Kaikai but he slipped so I just improvised and I went through the pocket and I saw Mana so I just zinged it. Because Mana and Kaikai, that's my cousins, so I've been playing with them since we were little kids so that connection is there."

Crawford's touchdown pass — his 19th on the season — came just two plays after he moved the chains with a 17-yard scramble on third-and-5. 

"That's my best friend," linebacker Leonard Ah You said of Crawford. "He's one of my best friends: him, Kaikai and Liona. You know, Toa, I grew up with him, he's like my brother; He used to sleepover my house every summer, the whole summer, so you know, seeing him doing his thing wasn't unexpected. I expected it."

By halftime, the Red Raiders had run 40 plays from scrimmage to just 20 for the Buffanblu. They out-gained them, 240 to 62, through the first two quarters. 

"That's what we needed: we just needed a little bit more time and they gave us that and I know they didn't put up a lot (of points), but they finished it, you know?," Kahuku defensive back Viliamu Toilolo said of the offense. "They did their job and we did ours."

Fonoti finished with 23 carries for 112 yards in the win. 

Defensively, the Red Raiders came up with four takeaways: three fumble recoveries and an interception. Consequently, the Buffanblu were shut out for the first time all year. 

"That's the goal every single game," Toilolo said. "Coming into this one we knew what we had to do and that goose egg was in our hands and we executed it right."

Toilolo came up with one of two Kahuku fumble recoveries after halftime. Just two plays after Punahou's Terahiti Wolfe forced and recovered a Kahuku fumble, linebacker Liona Lefau jarred the ball loose after a Buffanblu pass completion and Toilolo covered up the loose ball. 

"We always preach to always be around the ball — good things happen around the ball — and I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time and I just made a play," Toilolo said. 

The Red Raiders were able to recycle the takeaway into points with Kainoa Carvalho's 40-yard field goal to close out the scoring with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter. 

Kahuku's defense wasn't done yet. It came up with a goal line stand a few minutes later, when Ah You forced and recovered a fumble just outside the end zone to halt a 16-play Punahou drive. 

"That's how our defense has played all year long: we might give up a play or two here or there, but at the end, I mean, you even saw the goal line stance — I mean, nobody is surprised that we made that stance (because) we did it all year long," Sterling Carvalho said. 

The Buffanblu averaged nearly 295 rushing yards per game prior to Friday. They were coming off of 265 rushing yards in their semifinal win over Mililani a week ago. Running back Alai Williams, who ran for a season-best 237 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries against the Trojans, was held to just five yards on three attempts by the Red Raiders. 

Punahou managed only 62 yards rushing Friday (3.9 per carry) and finished with 197 total yards. It was 3 of 12 on third downs. 

Quarterback John-Keawe Sagapolutele posted 129 yards through the air on 16-of-33 passing. Standout wide receiver Astin Hange, the Open Division's leading receiver, was limited to five receptions for 37 yards. 

Slowing down Williams and Hange were keys for the Red Raiders defensively, Toilolo noted. 

"We wanted to shut down the run first," he said. "Once we get rid of (Williams), we can get rid of (Hange), just by executing on each play and we have the guys to match-up with them. They have really good athletes out there, but we have better ones and I mean, it showed tonight."

Kahuku held possession for more than 31 minutes, while Punahou had it for fewer than 17. 

"We had a lot of chances, to be honest," Buffanblu coach Nate Kia said. "We had some key drops and then you put those together with some untimely fumbles that really took the wind out of our sails right when we were getting momentum, so I think we found the cracks, but it's just the mistakes really that undermined us."

Punahou, which saw its six-game win streak come to an end, was seeking its fourth state championship and first since 2013. It was appearing in its seventh state title game and has lost all four meetings to Kahuku in a state final. 

Both of the Buffanblu's losses this season have come against the Red Raiders. Kahuku posted a 27-20 win over Punahou at Carleton E. Weimer Field back on Sept. 3. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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