The game can be simple as checkers.
On this night, it was chess. Punahou safety Alaka‘i Gilman made sure of it, leading his teammates on another stalwart defensive effort. Even in a 25-19 loss to No. 1 Saint Louis, No. 2 Punahou showed grit to go with plenty of talent.
They got to Saint Louis quarterback Jayden de Laura a few times in the backfield, but they also limited his dangerous open-field runs. The senior finished with 12 rushing yards on 11 carries. What Punahou took away turned into other opportunities for de Laura, who finished 34-for-40 for a career-high 402 yards. In many ways, it was a matchup within the matchup between the orchestrator of Saint Louis’ offense and the brainiac of Punahou’s retooled defensive unit.
Punahou provided what might become the recipe for opposing defenses hoping stay in a game with the nation’s No. 6-ranked team. Spy on de Laura, prevent chunk yardage and play as physical as possible. Saint Louis turned the ball over four times on fumbles. It was a calculated risk that paid off for Punahou, which had the ball and the potential to win the game in the final 3 minutes.
Gilman and de Laura chatted near midfield after the game.
“This is the best safety in the state,” de Laura said.
Gilman, who had two fumble recoveries, deflected any notion that Punahou kept de Laura under wraps.
“It’s hard when he’s running the ball every play for 20 yards,” said Gilman, who is committed to Washington State.
“Turnovers killed us,” de Laura said. “They capitalized on those.”
“Sometimes,” said Gilman who recovered one fumble and was a part of that swarming attack.
Perhaps the most pivotal play involving Gilman and de Laura came in the final minutes as Saint Louis drove near midfield. Punahou brought huge pressure on de Laura as he scrambled toward the right sideline. With Gilman and other defenders closing in, de Laura’s sideline toss was picked off, but Punahou was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty. A few plays later, Saint Louis got a TD run by slotback/running back Koali Nishigaya to take a 25-19 lead.
Was it really roughing the passer? One play made a difference, as did dozens of other plays in this showdown that lived up to the hype. Unless Saint Louis loses a game down the stretch, Punahou will face Kamehameha in the ILH playoffs, with the winner to play Saint Louis for the ILH Open title. A lot of Ifs, and it could lead to another meeting of the minds.