CLOSING THE BOOK: Castle Knights

Castle's Keanu Tilton was one of the Knights' best two-way players in 2018. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

John Hao‘s second season with the Castle Knights will be remembered for a long time despite an overall losing record of 5-7.

Castle improved its win total in Hao’s secong go-round, but that shouldn’t be so surprising as every Castle coach since Al Miyamoto in 1953 turned out a better product in his season season than his first. Castle’s resurgence came on offense, where the Knights scored 21.6 points per game to match Nelson Maeda‘s last crew two years ago on the number.

The problem was on defense, where Castle allowed 30.7 points per game but it marked an improvement of 6.9 points over the previous year, the biggest jump since Maeda’s final two years.



The story of the season was the outstanding dual threat provided by senior Senituli Punivai, who finished the season as the leading passer and rusher, bringing to mind the heroics of Joel Botelho in 2001 and taking them up a notch. Botelho led the Knights in passing in every game that season and led in rushing in all but one, but he ran for more than 100 yards just twice. Punivai was the superior rusher, leading the squad in every game, but he led in passing only three times. He still threw for 523 yards on only 63 attempts with six TDs and six picks. His arm was not really needed, with Samuel Judd attempting more passes (86) for 431 yards. Kanaipono Kahala-Giron (49 attempts, 174 yards), Mana Kahoopii (41-154) and Austyn Acosta (21-82) also got some serious run at the trigger position but the latter two were plagued by seven interceptions. Punivai had the biggest passing game of the season, throwing for 182 yards against an overmatched Radford squad. He put up four touchdowns to only one interception in the game, allowing only five of his 14 attempts to fall to the turf. It was the most attempts he had in a game all season.


Punivai did his most damage when he wasn’t looking downfield, rushing for 1,247 yards on 260 attempts with 14 touchdowns. That huge yardage number represented 90 percent of the team’s total even with talented Bruce Pakele (224 yards, five touchdowns) and Keanu Tilton (87, 0) in the backfield with him, and Punivai did it despite getting only 64 percent of the team’s carries. He led the team in rushing in every single game, something that had not been done since the Prep Bowl era began in 1973. Punivai had two monster games, but the biggest was his 233-yard effort against Kailua when he accounted for all but 44 of his team’s total yardage on 30 carries and seven pass attempts. He broke the plane three times in the game, giving him nine rushing scores in a five-game stretch in the middle of the season. Punivai had seven straight games with more than 100 yards rushing, easily a program record. Even with his breakout season, Punivai never caught the school’s single-game record of 249 yards by Nicasio Rediros way back in 1978, but he holds the second and third spots with only Jeremy McGoldrick and Kaleo Segovia joining Punivai on the list in this century.


Hao’s receiving corps wasn’t asked to do much more than block downfield most of the time, but when they were asked to do more they did it. Paul Omengebar was the top target with 28 catches for 467 yards and three touchdowns, but Jonah Figueroa was just as dangerous with a 21-403-3 line. Eleven Knights caught passes this season, with Kanekulani Kahala-Giron, Acosta and Elijah Catrett combining as an effective third option with a combined 33 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns. Figueroa had the best game of the magical run, catching five passes against Radford for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Figueroa and Omengebar went over the century mark once each, the fourth year in a row two different Knights did it in the same year.


Castle’s defense was mostly asked to just get off the field and get the ball into the offense’s hands, but it was asked to do much, much more in a 22-9 win over Nanakuli. It would hardly be appropriate to call that edition a resurgence of the Black Knights of Maeda’s day, as Castle got run over for 237 yards on the ground but limited Nanakuli to just 17 yards passing with three sacks and a fumble recovery. Even though Nanakuli ran hard at Castle, the Golden Hawks broke the plane only once on Hao’s defense. That was the lowest scoring game for the defense, but the 14 points it allowed Moanalua in the playoff upset has to be the best defensive game. Na Menehune managed 40 points against the Knights in the regular season but the defense wasn’t having it in the rematch. The Knights scored on a safety and got a huge interception from Justice Ching. Castle’s offense held the ball for much of the night, but the defense came up whenever it needed to.

>> John Hao is 8-13 in two years at Castle and 23-19 in four seasons overall.

>> Senituli Punivai led Division I in rushing yards.
>> Paul Omengebar finished 10th in Division I in receiving yards.

>> WR Elijah Catrett (5-7, 150), WR Jonah Figueroa (5-9, 140), DB Justice Ching (5-8, 160), LB/RB Keanu Tilton (5-11, 230), QB Mana Kahoopii.


Senituli Punivai1233-63-65236
Samuel Judd830-86-64312
Kanaipono Kahala-Giron326-49-11742
Mana Kahoopii314-41-41540
Austyn Acosta611-21-3820
Senituli Punivai122601,24714
Bruce Pakele12522245
Keanu Tilton1036870
Brandon Frey410330
Elijah Catrett7150
Jonah Figueroa8230
Mana Kahoopii3810
Paul Omengebar82-40
Samuel Judd84-140
Kanaipono Kahala-Giron310-190
Austyn Acosta613-630
Paul Omengebar8284673
Jonah Figueroa8214033
Kanekulani Kahala-Giron5121412
Austyn Acosta6111220
Elijah Catrett710851
Justice Ching33590
Raiden Wong32421
Senituli Punivai128290
Bruce Pakele123230
Keanu Tilton103-20
Brandon Frey42-50
Castle running back Keanu Tilton (44) broke through the line of Moanalua tacklers Micah Kim (15) and Brad Lilo (17) for extra yards. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Castle Jonah Figueroa got past Moanalua’s Jett Tanigawa (44) on a long return on a kickoff. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Castle’s Mana Kahoopii appears to be the quarterback of the future for the Knights. Photo by Kat Wade/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Castle quarterback Senituli Punivai did everything for the Knights in 2018. Photo by Kat Wade/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Castle’s Senituli Punivai triec to get past Kapolei’s Peni Naulu in a game to open the season. Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.


  1. castle observer October 31, 2018 10:04 am

    remarkable turnaround from a Team/Program that was under achieving, beset with so much internal strife, parental, school, community criticism and unhappiness, an unbelievable football drill video, to where they found ways to win the last 4 games of the season and secure the 4th spot in the playoffs. Credit goes to the Team to beat a Moanalua Team that was a #1 seed who struggled mightily in that game. Though they lost to a physical dominating Waipahu team, it’s a credit to Castle to make it that far after being 0 & 4. May they build on their success for next season.

  2. castle observer observer November 1, 2018 3:23 pm

    Too bad they didn’t show up against Waipahu. Damn.

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