(Here’s the original length of my story on the Kamehameha-Punahou football game. Limited space on print — this morning’s Star-Advertiser.)
For the Punahou Buffanblu, getting through a regular-season finale injury-free was priority one.
For Alii Pedrina, sparking the Kamehameha Warriors to victory was a bit of redemption. Pedrina, who missed several games in the heart of the ILH season, rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown as No. 5 Kamehameha held on to beat No. 2 Punahou 42-27 on Thursday night at Aloha Stadium.
Pedrina, a playmaker on the receiving end of passes, shined at running back down the stretch with Kamehameha clinging to its lead. It was his first time at running back since Pop Warner. He also had four receptions for 76 yards.
“It felt good doing it for my team, not for myself. For my boys,” the senior said, choking back tears. “I got in trouble, made some bad choices. I feel like I let down my team.”
Kamehameha coach David Stant was thankful for a strong finish — three wins to close the ILH season.
“The seniors have something for their memories. I asked them, ‘Give us something for your legacy.’ Hopefully, we can continue and have a long streak,” Stant said. “Alii made some bad decisions, but everybody backed him up. He’s a great player.”
Punahou (6-1 ILH, 7-2 overall) sat 17 starters, including 10 on offense, after clinching the league title and a state-tournament berth last week in a win over Saint Louis. They got a superb performance from backup quarterback Luke Morris, who passed for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He was also the only Buffanblu to run with the ball, finishing with 64 yards on 19 carries as Punahou kept the playcalling very basic for much of the game. Junior Trent Sitar had eight catches for 145 yards.
“It gave us a chance to play a lot of kids against a very good team in Kamehameha,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Kamehameha. They played very well and deserved to win today. We tried to make it close.”
Morris often passed out of empty-backfield sets, a first for Punahou this season, Ane said. Punahou kept standout quarterback Larry Tuileta, running back Ryan Tuiasoa and wide receiver Kanawai Noa in street clothes on the bench along.
Kamehameha went to sophomore running back Kaulana Apelu early and often, but he suffered an ankle injury in the second half. That meant a move from wide receiver to running back for Pedrina, who had gotten a heavy dose of reps on the scout team.
He wound up carrying the ball 10 times after Apelu had run 13 times for 86 yards before the injury. The Warriors totaled 202 rushing yards. Makoa Camanse-Stevens passed for 190 yards and three touchdowns in his final game. He closed the year with 17 touchdown passes and only one pick.
“Alii, unfortunately, hasn’t played with us every game, but I have so much confidence in him and any of our receivers,” Camanse-Stevens said. “Tonight, we peaked. We were fully meshed tonight.”
The Warriors (5-2 ILH, 7-3) were steady and balanced through nearly three quarters, building up a 28-7 lead after Camanse-Stevens tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Nephi Stevens.
From there, Punahou’s no-huddle attack picked up speed. Morris hit Noah Willey on a 19-yard scoring strike to bring the Buffanblu within 28-13 just before the end of the third quarter.
Camanse-Stevens then found Pedrina on a screen pass, and the senior sliced through the secondary for a 58-yard touchdown play.
That three-touchdown cushion almost vanished, however. On the next play from scrimmage, Morris found Trent Sitar for a 58-yard bomb before firing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Willey.
Morris connected with Dylan Cunningham on a 54-yard bomb to set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to the 6-foot senior to bring Punahou within 35-27 with 6:12 to play.
Punahou got the ball back on its 13-yard line with 4:03 left, but four incomplete passes ended their last chance to tie the game. Pedrina scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:47 remaining to ice the win.
The first half started with a strong Punahou drive with Luke Morris at the controls. The junior backup quarterback made play after play with his legs out of the five-wide set and his arm, hitting short passes. The Buffanblu missed a 33-yard field goal try, and then it was three turnovers that led to three first-half touchdowns for the Warriors.
Noa Yap’s recovery in the red zone off a fumble by Punahou tight end Dakota Torres turned into a 6-yard touchdown pass from Camanse-Stevens to Pedrina.
Less than a minute later, Dade Apao made a diving interception off a deflection to pick off a pass by Morris at the Punahou 30-yard line. Four plays later, Apelu bolted over the goal line from one yard out for his first touchdown and Punahou led 14-0 late in the opening quarter.
Kamehameha linebacker Thor Latu sacked Morris near midfield and teammate Duke Kupau recovered to set up the next score. Apelu’s 7-yard run up the gut gave Kamehameha a 21-0 lead with 4:07 to go in the first half.
Punahou got on the scoreboard on a 6-yard strike from Morris to Noah Willey with 40 seconds left in the half.