It wasn’t meant as an excuse by either Punahou coach Kale Ane or senior receiver Andrei Iosivas.
Neither believed it was a coincidence that in their first back-to-back game of the season, the fourth-ranked Buffanblu put forth their best outing of the season in a 56-42 win over Junipero Serra on Saturday at Manchester Stadium in San Diego.
Punahou (3-0), which began the season with a lackluster win over Moanalua and then held off Torrey Pines 23-7 three weeks later, came out much more inspired in the Honor Bowl against one of the better teams in Southern California.
Senior quarterback Stephen Barber accounted for six touchdowns — including a 99-yard run in the game’s final seconds after sophomore defensive back Alaka’i Gilman intercepted a pass at the Punahou 1-yard line to preserve the win.
“Yeah, I think it’s a little bit easier,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said after the game about playing consecutive weeks. “We’ve been rusty.”
Iosivas, who had six receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns, said it was tough playing their season opener and then waiting three weeks to get back on the field.
“The three-week span where we didn’t play got a little bit boring,” Iosivas admitted. “We always come out to play hard and win but it’s tough sometimes when you’re not playing another team. When the schedule got up and going again it has been really good for us.”
The Cavaliers entered the game ranked No. 55 by the MaxPreps computers and Punahou was No. 152.
Despite losing close to 10 players at various points in the game, the Buffanblu were the stronger team late. Punahou intercepted two passes by Serra quarterback Blaze McKibbin, who finished 38-for-66 for 399 yards and five touchdowns.
Kaulana Makaula returned the first interception in the fourth quarter 58 yards for a touchdown and Gilman’s pick sealed the win for Punahou, which has now beaten two California teams in the same season for the first time.
“It was great. The kids showed a lot of pride,” Ane said. “To play a quality team like (Serra) on the road and have such adversity that really knocks you down, knocks you down again and you keep getting up and you don’t know if you’re going to make it — to make it in the end is one of the most special moments you can have as a coach.”
Punahou’s defense somehow survived despite being on the field for 109 of the 158 total plays run in the game.
Serra accounted for 566 total yards while Punahou finished with 510.
Barber was 12-for-23 for 326 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 110 yards and two scores.
Time and time again, Punahou caught Serra out of position on defense and chewed them up with big plays.
“We prepared a lot for this game,” said Iosivas, who caught touchdown passes of 79, 34 and 29 yards. “We watched a lot of film and noticed they got confused when offenses switched a lot and so the seam on top was always open. They would always be one-on-one with either me or Tamatoa (Falatea).”
Falatea answered Serra’s opening touchdown with a 63-yard TD reception and had 93 yards on his two catches.
Running back Sitiveni Kaufusi sat out until late in the third quarter and was key down the stretch. He powered his way to 69 yards on nine carries with a 19-yard touchdown run that gave Punahou a 49-42 lead with 1:19 remaining.
“He had some cramps earlier, so we kind of tried to work it out and hopefully get him into the game in the fourth quarter,” Ane said about Kaufusi. “He was patient and when his time came, he took it and ran great.”
Punahou returns home this weekend and will open the ILH season next Saturday against Kamehameha at Aloha Stadium.