Punahou’s starters hadn’t seen the field much in the fourth quarter over the Buffanblu’s first six wins this season.
Their efficiency routinely powered the Buffanblu to comfortable leads by halftime as Punahou swept through the ILH first-round schedule with relative ease, starting with a 55-7 win over Saint Louis in the league opener on Aug. 29.
Friday’s rematch with the Crusaders bore little resemblance to that first meeting and Punahou survived a four-quarter shootout to retain the ILH title.
The Buffanblu played from behind for one of the few times this season and avoided a third matchup against Saint Louis by wrapping up the ILH second-round and overall titles and the accompanying Division I state tournament berth with a dramatic 35-28 win.
Kanawai Noa helped propel Punahou to the opening win over Saint Louis back in August with seven receptions for 242 yards and scored three touchdowns, all in the first half. He was a pivotal figure again on Friday, with his most telling plays coming in the late moments.
Saint Louis, which led 13-0 early, battled back from a 28-20 halftime deficit to send the game into the fourth quarter tied.
The Crusaders blocked a field goal early in the period but fumbled the ball away on the ensuing drive. Punahou’s drive stalled at its 43 and the Buffanblu lined up to punt facing fourth-and-2. But the Crusaders were penalized for having 12 player on the field, the five-yard infraction extending the Punahou possession.
On the next play Noa got behind the Saint Louis secondary and Punahou quarterback Ephraim Tuliloa hit him in stride deep down the left sideline for the go-ahead 52-yard touchdown.
After the Punahou defense held, Tuliloa looked for Noa again and a 37-yard completion allowed the Buffanblu to run out the clock. Noa finished the game with 12 receptions for 176 yards and the decisive score.
While Punahou can now look ahead to the Division I state tournament, Saint Louis’ prospects beyond this season appear bright as well.
The Crusaders’ growth over the course of Cal Lee’s return season as Saint Louis head coach was evident in Friday’s performance when compared with the opener.
Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made his first varsity start in the first meeting with Punahou and completed 15 of 31 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and had an interception returned for a score.
With six more games under offensive coordinator Ron Lee behind him — all wins — since the first loss to Punahou, Tagovailoa completed 11 of his first 14 attempts for 177 yards on Friday and finished the game 24-for-39 for 334 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score. His first score was a 35-yard laser to Drew Kobayashi, who ended the night with seven receptions for 138 yards.