ILH Division I Playoffs
The matchup: Kamehameha (9-1) vs. Punahou (8-0)
Location/Time: Aloha Stadium, Friday, 7:45 p.m.
Head-to-head (since 1973): Kamehameha leads 46-33-1
Biggest margin of victory: Kamehameha, 50-7, Sept. 20, 2002
*Smallest margin of victory: Punahou, 14-13, Sept. 23, 2006; Kamehameha, 19-18, Oct. 6, 1989; Kamehameha, 9-8, Sept. 24, 1976
*Teams played to 11-11 tie on Oct. 23, 1987
Kamehameha’s offensive leadersUpdated: Oct. 29
Punahou’s offensive leadersUpdated: Nov. 25
The undefeated Punahou Buffanblu are a win away from becoming the first ILH team to win three consecutive Division I league titles since Saint Louis’ run ended in 2003.
All that is standing in their way is a Kamehameha team that was held scoreless by the Buffanblu in mid-September. Kamehameha’s only loss this season came in a 24-0 defeat to Punahou.
The Warriors have done extremely well under first-year coach Doug Cosbie, relying heavily on a great defense and an even better running game. Despite a season-ending injury to Kaulana Apelu in the season opener, Kamehameha has still rushed for over 2,000 yards as a team in nine games. Brandon Kahookele, who has missed the last four games, has two 200-yard rushing games this season.
So does Oahu’s leading rusher, senior Kainoa Simao, who has run for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games. Simao has been on fire as of late, setting the single-game school rushing record with 291 yards in a 65-0 win against Damien. Even more impressive than that was his last game, a 41-carry, 233-yard performance against Saint Louis in a 34-28 postseason win.
Punahou is the only remaining undefeated team on Oahu and owns victories over the second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams in the state. The offense, with quarterback Larry Tuileta, running back Wayne Taulapapa and receiver Kanawai Noa gets plenty of acclaim, but the defense has been why Punahou finds itself in the position it’s in.
The Buffanblu have held six of their eight opponents to eight points or less. In their victory over Kamehameha, the Warriors had only 86 total yards until their last drive in garbage time.
The one team to find success offensively against the Punahou defense was Saint Louis, which scored 32 points against Punahou three weeks ago. The same Saint Louis team that Kamehameha has beaten, twice.
The Crusaders did it moving the ball through the air, something Kamehameha really struggles at. Sophomore quarterback Noah Sua-Godinet averages less than 100 yards a game through the air and has thrown nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Sua-Godinet really struggled against Punahou, finishing 9-for-24 for 38 yards and a pick. If he does that again, it’s hard not to see Punahou winning by double digits again.
Kamehameha’s defense did an admirable job against Punahou, but if it’s constantly on the field because the offense can’t get a first down, then the Buffanblu will wear them out with Taulapapa (5-11, 185) pounding away behind a huge offensive line. Simao had 41 carries last week and will be hard pressed to try and match that again this week. Kahookele coming back from injury would be a boost, but the bottom line is the Warriors need to make some plays in the passing game.
If Sua-Godinet can find some success hooking up with leading receiver Kaulana Werner or William Young, then Kamehameha has a chance. Forcing turnovers on defense, something the Warriors have been good at, will also help, but Punahou has been great at protecting the ball.
The Warriors can’t fall behind early because they aren’t suited to playing catchup. If the game stays even or Kamehameha even finds itself ahead at the break, then the Warriors can make a game of it and possibly force a winner-take-all playoff next week.
If Punahou wins, then the Buffanblu win the ILH title and will not play again until the state semifinals in three weeks.