Punahou has had a lot of practice at … well … practicing.
After completing the ILH regular season on Oct. 11, the Buffanblu had a bye for the first round of the Division I playoffs. Following a win over Kamehameha on Oct. 25 to clinch the ILH title and the league’s state tournament berth, they went close to three weeks before playing Farrington last Friday in a Division I semifinal of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football Championship.
While playing two games in a span of 35 days offers ample recovery time, the redundancy of practice can challenge a team’s focus. Championship week tends to take care of any such concerns as the Buffanblu prepare for Saturday’s state championship game against Mililani.
“This has been the easy week,” Punahou coach Kale Ane said of keeping the players’ attention. “Everybody’s really focused, they know what the stakes are. We try to talk about playing as well as you can, knowing your responsibilities and being there for each other.”
Ane said the Buffanblu players have conducted themselves with “a sense of purpose” in the practices leading up to the program’s third straight appearance in the Division I final after losing to Kahuku the past two years.
“They have some things they want to finish. They’re proud of what they’ve done but they want to finish and reach their final goal,” he said.
Punahou (10-0) enters the week ranked 46th nationally by StudentSports.com, which also named Buffanblu quarterback Larry Tuileta its West Region player of the week on Wednesday.
Tuileta threw for 430 yards and five touchdowns in Punahou’s 48-6 win over Farrington, leading a Buffanblu offense that has scored at least 35 points in each of the last six games and is averaging just over 40 this season.
“Everyone helped me out on that one,” Tuileta said of the award. “Coaches, of course, and the players helping each other get better. That’s what’s gotten us to this point.”
On the other side of the ball, the Punahou defense has held opponents to single-digit scoring on seven occasions with three shutouts. The Buffanblu allowed more than 14 points just once this season, a 35-32 shootout win over Saint Louis on Oct. 4.
Punahou’s efficiency stems in part from making effective use of its time off.
“You’re going to play how you practice,” Tuileta said on a darkened Alexander Field after Wednesday’s workout. “You practice well, you put all your effort into each rep you do, in the game you’re going to do the exact same thing.”
Tuileta is among the Punahou seniors heading into their third state championship game.
“I think it definitely helps,” said Ane, who is going into his fifth title game in the last nine years. “The kids have gone through it twice and have an idea of what to expect. The crowd, the anxiety and all the excitement. They’re talking to the other kids about what to expect.”
After going over the afternoon’s plans with his staff, Ane spends most practices roaming between position groups, giving his assistants a loose rein to run their drills with his son, Teetai, in charge of the offense and Agenhart Ellis overseeing the defense.
“I get to walk around now, I get to look at both sides and give little tweaks and suggestions and they’re fine with it,” Ane said. “But they’re very motivated to do well and they have such great kids to work with it makes it fun.
“I trust their decision-making and the kids are comfortable with them and respect them.”
Teetai Ane is in his second season as offensive coordinator following the departure of Darryl Kan from the staff. Although the demands of Kan’s job keeps him away from the field, Kale Ane said Kan still contributes to the process.
“He’s been very gracious about giving his time and being there to ask questions,” Ane said. “He comes to our games and looks at things and just gives us suggestions.”
The Buffanblu took their business-like approach into Wednesday’s practice as they continued preparations to face a Mililani team they defeated 24-14 way back on Aug. 15.
“(Trojans running back Vavae Malepeai) is a tremendous runner. (Quarterback McKenzie Milton’s) accurate and has good receivers and has a good offensive line to give him time,” Ane said.
”They’ve got a couple of Division I defensive linemen, they’ve got some of the best linebackers in the state and you’ve got some athletic defensive backs and they’re coached well and have good schemes. Both sides of the ball are challenging and (a championship) should be a game like this.”