How to repeat: Punahou’s hunger games

Punahou's Dayson Watanabe nearly had this interception against Kamehameha. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Punahou’s Dayson Watanabe nearly had this interception against Kamehameha. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

Punahou put up numbers against one of the state’s best defenses, Kamehameha, that are uniquely amazing. Punahou won a widely anticipated showdown on Friday, 47-7. It’s not that Kamehameha is bad. They’re very good. Punahou is just in another world.

• Running back Wayne Taulapapa rushed for 126 yards and two TDs on just 11 carries. He may not have expected to play just one half, but that’s been the common thread all season for a team (and RB) who have so few games to play. He had just 50 carries all season coming into the game. Now the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior has a mere 61 rushing attempts for 694 yards. That’s 11.4 yards per carry and 115.7 yards per game. He and his offensive line have punished D-I and D-II high school defenses alike.

Mild-mannered off the field, Taulapapa has been running with a distinctly furious anger. I’d probably be a little mad, too, getting such a light workload, but he understands the bigger picture quite well. If he stays healthy and rested, Taulapapa will be running with this same level of aggression, vision and productivity come post-season. For the defending champions, a second title is all that matters.

Kanawai Noa is an all-purpose terrain vehicle who is also equipped for warp-speed adventure. The 6-1, 185-pound senior caught seven passes for 82 yards and a TD. He also returned two punts and a kickoff. His 51-yard punt return to the house was, as are all his scoring plays, pure thrill, a gasser right up the middle through Kamehameha’s normally tight coverage. He now has two punt returns for TDs this fall, along with 32 catches for 787 yards and eight TDs in six games. Mostly partial games. Coach Kale Ane says that Noa has a few college scholarship offers that he’s keeping under his hat. I have no idea who has offered, but I’d be surprised if at least half of the Pac-12 hasn’t. He brings back memories of George Biletnikoff, but with more speed, a full head of hair and no Stickum.

Punahou's Heisman Hosoda caught both passes that were thrown to him against Kamehameha. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Punahou’s Heisman Hosoda caught both passes that were thrown to him against Kamehameha. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

• As a team, the Buffanblu had 476 total yards, which is not close to a season high. But what QB Ephraim Tuliloa did more than usual early in the game was look for running opportunities. Defenses sag off as much as they can, knowing the junior southpaw is looking and going through progressions as much as possible. Kamehameha’s pass rush (Mika Taufa) and secondary (Dylan Kane) are outstanding, so Tuliloa became a factor with his feet.

He was known for running much more out of the pocket coming into Punahou from the North Shore. But now, after three years in the system, he’s disciplined with his decisions and lets his playmakers do their work. He was 15-for-19 against the Warriors for 207 yards and three TD passes. He finished with a modest six carries for 21 yards, but numbers don’t explain the impact he made on this game and on future matchups.

• There’s more about the offense, especially its secondary options or role players. Matthew Christman, Punahou’s 6-3, 235-pound senior tight end, got two targets and made two catches for 29 yards, including an 11-yard TD. Between Christman, leaper Micah Ma‘a (TD) and a number of available and willing route runners, Punahou has precision in the pocket and downfield. They’ve grown accustomed to the old notion of balanced offense, and though Noa is a clear go-to receiver, they never force the ball into double coverage. That’s what a highly effective O-line can do in protection, giving Tuliloa the time he needs, and he rarely needs more than 3-4 seconds.

Here’s what Tuliloa’s targets looked like on Friday.
• Taulapapa: no receptions (one target)
• Noa: seven receptions, 82 yards, TD (eight targets)
Heisman Hosoda: 2-40 (two targets)
• Christman 2-29, TD (two targets)
• Ma‘a: 2-40, TD (three targets)
Kala‘i Santos: no receptions (one target)
Judd Crockett: 2-16 (two targets)
Keala Martinson: 1-19 (one target)
Ethan Takeyama: 2-13 (two targets)

Hosoda got most of the work on the ground after Punahou took a 34-7 halftime lead. He rushed for 53 yards on eight carries.

Cornerback Dayson Watanabe, the basketball player, is among the state’s elite cover men. He had one of Punahou’s two picks. Robert Straton had the other.

Ronley Lakalaka and Laakea Look had one sack each.

• A 40-point margin of defeat doesn’t do a lot to encourage Warrior fans as the ILH D-I playoffs begin this weekend. But the reality is that the offense has come a long way, and even when it was still a work in progress, the Warriors scored 38 points on Saint Louis more than a month ago.

QB Fatu Sua-Godinet completed five of his first six pass attempts, including a nifty 34-yard bomb to Kane. After that, Kane didn’t get another target until the second half. He finished with two grabs for 40 yards, and though it would’ve been great to see the 6-3, 185-pound speedster line up at WR all night, it’s almost impossible. He had to play defense full time against a no-huddle aerial attack.

Sua-Godinet’s normally robust rushing numbers weren’t going to happen. Punahou kept one or two spies on him and limited the senior to 26 rushing yards on 12 carries. He passed for 236 yards (17-for-38). His first four throws went to Kaulana Werner for three receptions (16 yards) before the TD strike to Kane. Late in the half, he gravitated toward Kumoku Noa with four consecutive tosses, which resulted in two receptions for 29 yards.

Sua-Godinet’s targets:
• Werner: 9-106 (13 targets)
• Kane: 2-40, TD (three targets)
• Noa: 5-93 (12 targets)
Alika Kaha‘ulelio: 0-0 (five targets)
Jaykob Cabunoc: 1-(-3) (one target)

So this is the reality. Kamehameha can run for 100, 150, 200 yards on most defenses. Against Punahou, with stud linebackers Saitui Moea‘i, Lakalaka, Kalama Chung, it was 24 carries for 33 yards.

Passion. Intelligence. Opportunity. Punahou is Goliath without the arrogance, without the death wish. There will be no overlooking the Davids of Hawaii high school football. If anything, the dearth of games and playing time (Taulapapa) are making the Buffanblu hungrier. Maybe there’s a little bit greed when it comes to the thirst for victory, but they are playing like underdogs and winning like emperors. Over and over and over again.

But, if Punahou ever proves to be vulnerable due to those traits that befell Goliath, anything is possible. Kamehameha and Saint Louis have more than a few slingshots ready, given the chance.


  1. Husky77 October 14, 2014 9:13 pm

    How about mentioning the offensive lineman who recovered two fumbles in the first quarter that prevented Kamehameha from possibly going up 21-0? It is not too often an O lineman gets credit for making two heads up crucial plays…

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