Friday’s second semifinal in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I state football semifinals pits two of the most storied programs in the state. But for all of the big wins Punahou and Farrington have shared over the years, they are better known for stumbling near the end.
Only Saint Louis (35) has won the ILH more often than Punahou (24), but unlike the Crusaders the Buffanblu have struggled to seal the deal, getting to the state championship four times and winning only once. Kale Ane (108-53-0), who passed Dave Eldredge (103-41-4) as the school’s winningest coach earlier this year, has been the man in charge of the Buffanblu ever since the state championship tournament was established in 1999. Ane is currently tied with Farrington legend Skippa Diaz (108-90) on the state’s all-time coaching wins list.
Punahou also played in only one Oahu Prep Bowl, losing to Waianae in 1977 under Doug Bennett.
The Governors have been equally cursed, never reaching the state final despite participating in six of the past seven state tournaments. Farrington did reach the Oahu Prep Bowl once, in 1990, but got thumped by Saint Louis 38-3 when the Crusaders held Governors running back Randall Okimoto to 33 yards on 15 carries. Okimoto has been Farrington’s coach since 2002.
The Governors’ disappointment in big games is not limited to the state tournament. The school has been in seven OIA Championship games, three of them under Okimoto, and lost all three times.
These two programs have no shortage of heroes with hardware, from Wally Yonamine to Stan Cadiente to Okimoto on the Governors side and Charley Ane, Darryl Gabriel and Manti Teo on the Punahou side.
Quarterback Larry Tuileta, receiver Kanawai Noa, running back Kotoni Sekona and the rest of the Buffanblu already have at least one ILH title but no state championships while every member of the Farrington squad sits ringless.
And now these schoolboys are two steps away from immortality.
Both teams will hit the field with a slew of players who are used to being in the big game, if not winning it. Tuileta holds Punahou’s career state tournament records in games (4), completions (87), yards (1,035), attempts (141) and touchdowns (11).
No Punahou receiver has put up as many yards in the state tournament as Noa, who has 311 including a single-game record of 229. He is third in the program’s history with 17 receptions, behind Miah Ostrowski (25) and Dalton Hilliard (18). Noa has not had fewer than four catches and 92 yards against a Division I foe this season.
Sekona is tied for the team record in receiving touchdowns with two, but he has not been part of the passing game this year with no more than two catches in a game. No Buffanblu running back who has toted the rock at least five times has a better average than backup running back Heisman Hosoda, who put up a 5.3 number on six carries last year. Hilliard (5.1, 26 carries) and Steven Lakalaka (4.8, 29) are right behind him if he slips up in his limited action.
The young Governors don’t have the star power the Buffanblu have, but they do have a quarterback with as much experience. Montana Liana has appeared under center in three state tournament games, more than any quarterback the school has ever trotted out there. Despite mostly being asked to turn around and hand the ball off, Liana holds the school’s state-tournament records in attempts (47) and completions (23). He needs 87 yards against Punahou’s tight defense to match Dayton Kealoha’s school record of 350 yards passing.
Senior Sanele Lavatai’s 105 yards in a first-round win over Baldwin would have him rocketing up the career list for any other school, but not Farrington’s. Lavatai is seventh on the school’s career list in state-tournament games behind Harry Tuimaseve (540 yards), Tyler Taumua (454), Apelu So’oalo (307), Matt Bell (229), Abraham Silva (225) and Siaosi Feleunga (191). He is not going to touch Taumua’s nine career touchdowns, but none of the guys who hit the field will be going for the individual glory.
They want the glory that comes with a piece of a rare state championship. That’s the kind of thing that when it happens, it has a way of living forever.