Saturday night’s ILH Open Division title clash between No. 1 Saint Louis and No. 2 Punahou at Aloha Stadium had all the makings of a high-stakes matchup. Perhaps too high, as the loser would have its season automatically end in October.
After a 45-21 win for the Crusaders, it was the Buffanblu who suffered a season-ending loss despite finishing with a 7-3 record in the first season of Open Division play. They are also the No. 2-ranked team in the state according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10 with wins over No. 3 Mililani and No. 4 Campbell.
Before the season, it was determined that three teams from the OIA and one team from the ILH would form the HHSAA Open Division tournament. Punahou coach Kale Ane took the loss in stride but still wishes his team could play for more.
“Well, we all know the guidelines so we’re disappointed,” he said. “We knew going in that this was our opportunity to go to the state tournament, we just didn’t do our job.”
If the Buffanblu were able to pull off the upset, then Saint Louis, despite its No. 10 national ranking on MaxPreps, would have been done as well.
Punahou gave Saint Louis (9-0) its closest game of the year in a 35-28 victory for the Crusaders on Sept. 15. The Buffanblu did lose to Kahuku 41-28 to open their season, but beat Waianae and Kamehameha by a combined 87-0 to set up Saturday’s game.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” senior defensive star Marist Liufau said when asked if the Buffanblu should still be playing. “We deserve to play but it’s hard. We only have one seed but we can’t do anything about it. Saint Louis pulled through. It was all about tonight and there’s no excuses.”
History says that even if Punahou had a slot in this year’s state tournament, its first matchup wouldn’t be a sure thing.
Out of the three years the HHSAA has held an Open Division tournament, the ILH was allotted two teams just once in 2016. Punahou was the second team from the ILH but lost its quarterfinal matchup to Kapolei after Taulia Tagovailoa, then a sophomore, passed for 367 yards and five touchdowns in a 33-21 win.
But for now, Punahou, and the rest of the state, will never know for sure if the two best teams will be battling it out for the top spot in 2018. Instead, the Buffanblu will turn in their pads early.
“I’m still disappointed in the loss tonight but when I look back, there were a lot of great things that happened,” Ane said. “We have a good core of kids coming back. I think the seniors felt like they did a good job and they left a legacy where they were competitive and successful. For both the seniors and the underclassmen, it was a really good year.”
“It’s been a great journey,” added Liufau, who holds nine scholarship offers and had seven tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery against the Crusaders. “It’s always a sad thing to end but it’s on to the next chapter I guess. Go Buffanblu forever.”