No. 2 Kahuku runs past No. 4 Punahou to return to title game


Fri, Nov 17, 2023 @ Mililani [ 7:00 pm ]

Final 1 2 3 4 T
Kahuku (12-2-0) 7 0 14 728
Punahou (7-3-0) 0 7 3 616
Ty McCutcheon 205 yd 1 TD
Va'aimalae Fonoti 155 yd 2 TD
Zion White 94 yd
Diezel Kamoku 77 yd 1 TD

MILILANI — The stage is set. 

With its 28-16 win over Punahou Friday night, Kahuku will get a shot at redemption and a third straight state crown. 

Vaaimalae Fonoti ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns and Kaimana Carvalho recorded a pair of interceptions and a touchdown reception to lift the second-ranked Red Raiders past the fourth-ranked Buffanblu in the nightcap of an Open Division semifinal in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships. 

An overflow crowd of about 5,000 fans at Mililani's John Kauinana Stadium saw Kahuku (11-2) hold off Punahou (7-3) to set-up a rematch against No. 1 Mililani in next week's title game. 

The Red Raiders and Trojans will face off Friday at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex at UH-Manoa. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. 

"It felt great. It was all about our preparation; we had a real good week of practice," said Fonoti, who carried 26 times and averaged six yards per rush. 

Kahuku RB Vaaimalae Fonoti celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Punahou. Brian Bautista | SL    Purchase image

Kahuku ran the ball 40 times for 156 of its 304 yards of total offense. It chalked up 18 total first downs — including nine by rush — and limited Punahou to only seven first downs. 

"We focused on the run because we know if we can establish the run, then we can establish the pass, too, and vice versa," Fonoti added. 

Fonoti got the Red Raiders on the board with his 10-yard TD run with 3:31 left in the first quarter. The scoring play capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive that included three third-down conversions. 

Punahou appeared to pull even just two plays later after quarterback Ty McCutcheon found Zion White on a pass play that covered more than 50 yards. Initially, White looked to have scored, but after an official review, it was determined that he fumbled just before he reached the goal line. Consequently, the loose football hit the pylon just before the end zone and went out of bounds, which resulted in a touchback and gave Kahuku possession at the Buffanblu 20-yard line. 

Midway through the second quarter, Punahou got a takeaway after linebacker Alika Cavaco-Amoy recovered a Kahuku fumble. Two plays later, Iosepa Lyman leapt over the pile on a direct snap for a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Carson Beard's extra point evened the score at 7, which held just the 8:16 mark of the third quarter. 

The Red Raiders opened the second half with a kickoff return of 32 yards by Aiden Manutai to start their drive in Buffanblu territory. Fonoti carried on five consecutive plays before Diezel Kamoku hauled in a 10-yard TD pass from Tulilele Tagovailoa-Amosa to put their team back ahead. 

Punahou went three-and-out on its ensuing drive — which included a near-interception by Carvalho on second down — and punted  away. Two plays into the Kahuku possession, Carvalho atoned for his dropped pick by turning a quick wide receiver-screen pass into a 40-yard touchdown. On the scoring play, Carvalho found a seam along the right hash and used his speed to split a number of defenders on his way to the end zone. 

"There's gonna be a lot of down plays, but it's just a matter of how you're gonna pick up from that, so just how to execute after a bad play," Carvalho said of the sequence. 

After the PAT by Zaden Mariteragi, the Red Raiders stretched their lead to 21-7 with 5:44 left in the third quarter. 

Punahou cut into the lead with a 29-yard field goal by Beard late in the stanza, but Kahuku recycled an interception by Manutai into a 12-yard Fonoti TD run to make it 28-10 with 7:32 to play. 

McCutcheon threw a 12-yard TD pass on fourth-and-goal to Noah Macapulay with 3:02 remaining and recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Buffanblu drove to the Kahuku 42-yard line, but Carvalho made an unlikely diving interception in the red zone to get his team the ball back. 

"I just dropped back, listened to my coaches, be patient and once the ball goes up, I'll fly and get there," Carvalho said. 

In addition to five takeaways (four interceptions and a fumble recovery) from its defense, Kahuku also tallied five tackles for loss, including four sacks. McCutcheon finished 17-of-30 passing for 205 yards. 

"That's a big thanks to our d-line and ‘backers blitzing, so I mean, being able to get in his face, he just has to throw it up and let us back five (defensive backs) make a play and that's exactly what we did," Carvalho said. 

Punahou was just 3 of 10 on third downs. 

"They were huge," Fonoti said of the Red Raiders' defense.

"It's what we want to do. We want to be dominant in all three phases, so the fact that our defense can do that for us and we, as an offense, can put points on the board, it's just a great feeling," he added. 

Kahuku limited Astin Hange, Punahou's standout receiver and kick returner, to only three receptions for 39 yards and two kickoff returns for 26 yards. 

"We had so many missed opportunities," Buffanblu coach Nate Kia lamented. 

"We had missed opportunities in the first half. Even though it was tied at halftime, the squandered opportunities early, they took advantage of later in the half. They executed better down there, especially offensively. Defense battled, (but) they were on the field too long and the offense couldn't get it going. We had too many misfires, we couldn't take advantage of the opportunities and Kahuku just executed better, but we're proud of our guys' effort," Kia said. 

Red Raiders coach Sterling Carvalho tipped his cap to Kia and the Buffanblu. 

"Punahou is a great team. They're well-coached, great players and so we're just very fortunate to get a W tonight and prepare ourselves for a state championship once again," he said. 

The game was a rematch of last year's state final, which Kahuku won by a score of 20-0 over Punahou. 

This week's state championship game will be a rematch of the Oahu Interscholastic Association title game from Nov. 4. Mililani came away with a 28-21 win over the Red Raiders in that one. 

"Since the (OIA championship) game finished, we wanted to go back and play them again, but we got our chance now, so we're going to go back, practice, get a better gameplan and come out executing," Kaimana Carvalho said. 

Friday's title game will be the first to feature two OIA schools since the Open Division debuted in 2016. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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