Punahou: Must be seen to be believed

Punahou's Wayne Taulapapa boke away from St. Louis' Toa Aufaga on Friday night. Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino
Punahou’s Wayne Taulapapa boke away from St. Louis’ Toa Aufaga on Friday night. Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino

I‘ve seen Mililani and came away impressed, wowed enough to change my ballot and place the Trojans atop my list at No. 1. Sure, Punahou is defending champion and deserves to be at the top until they prove otherwise, right?

Well… I’ve seen Punahou now. I’m changing my vote back to the Puns. (Don’t e-mail me about bad nicknames. The school’s publications use “Puns” and I’m about to refer to the team multiple times, so please…)

I just saw a first-time starter at quarterback throw for 365 yards and five touchdowns. In one half. Against Saint Louis. With only one sack; that Buffanblu offensive line didn’t play like one devastated by graduation.

The weak spot in recent years for the Crusaders was a lack of depth up front on the D-line. But Punahou didn’t consistently go smashmouth with one of the state’s top running backs, Wayne Taulapapa. He touched the ball just 15 times on the ground tonight (for an impressive 162 yards).

Punahou's Dayson Watanabe swated away a pass intended for St. Louis' Jimmy Nunuha on Friday. Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino
Punahou’s Dayson Watanabe swated away a pass intended for St. Louis’ Jimmy Nunuha on Friday. Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Jamm Aquino

No, Punahou’s coaches let the pigskin fly high and far, again and again. They played Ryan Tuliloa three-plus quarters, getting him the reps he needs. He finished 22-for-35, 441 yards, six TD tosses. Some critics might say he should’ve sat the second half, but no, he needs reps. Some could say he and/or Punahou were pouring it on, but the running clock/mercy rule was in effect for most of the second half.

The Buffanblu actually threw the ball just six times after intermission and ran it 13 times. What also made Tuliloa intriguing to watch is that he wasn’t quite in a rhythm at the onset. In fact, he was “only” 5-for-11 until he found Kanawai Noa in solo coverage down the sideline.

It looked very much like what the two of them did against Farrington a few weeks back in a scrimmage. Tuliloa has some touch on his ball, not quite like former all-state offensive player of the year Larry Tuileta, but it definitely has some finesse. But it seems possible that Tuliloa doesn’t really get in a groove until he lets a pass rip deep downfield, which is what he did for a 45-yard TD bomb to Noa.

Then the floodgates opened. A 44-yarder to Noa followed. Then a 43-yard scoring bomb to Noa. Again. The next time he threw the ball, it was after a touchback on a kickoff. At the 20-yard line, Tuliloa stepped back and heaved it long and far again, and Noa pulled it in for an 80-yard touchdown.

That’s four throws from No. 16 to No. 9, an accumulation of 212 yards, three touchdowns and a whole lot of excitable Buffanblu fans in the span of four plays from scrimmage. Noa finished with seven catches for 242 yards. Not a bad start to the new season, hmm?

The WOW FACTOR is back. It’s not just because of the offense, too. Punahou’s defense was superb. Pass coverage was sticky almost all night. Tua Tagovailoa, who had proven effective against a very good team (Mililani) and an awesomely great team (St. John Bosco), had no running room. His slipper scrambles amounted to just 8 rushing yards, which is a huge factor.

Tagovailoa’s scrambling is a big part of his game, but Punahou kept one, sometimes two spies (I’m guessing) hovering near the young standout. Tagovailoa finished with 132 passing yards on 15-for-31 passing. I think it’s safe to say he will not pass for less than a 50-percent completion rate again this season.

Coaches Cal and Ron Lee will see to that. If they wanted to pull him earlier in the game, they could have. Ryder Kuhns was certainly ready. But it seems the staff is committed to their new starting QB, and as a sophomore, every rep he gets in game action is going to pay off in the long run in a big way.

But there’s no mistaking it. Punahou’s pass coverage was impressive tonight. I feel for opposing quarterbacks, particularly the ones who aren’t as mobile as Tagovailoa. There’s simply no crease, no open space when you face Punahou’s defense. I’m sure the tape will reveal a few weak spots now and then, but if we were to grade and rate the top defensive units in the state, Punahou would be at the top, at least for now.

Not even St. John Bosco could hold Saint Louis to just one touchdown. Was I the only one tonight wondering if it should’ve been Punahou playing SJB this preseason?


  1. P.T August 30, 2014 4:46 am

    Hey Paul it’s kinda hard to gauge Punahou right now especially since St Louis’ defense has been “horrible”. If they can do this same thing against Kamehameha, I’ll be convinced. Good write up.

  2. tubby August 30, 2014 7:48 am

    In the radio pre game (good coverage, i thought) the announcers said Kuhns gave up his starting position this past week in practice.

  3. Paul Honda August 30, 2014 11:13 am

    True, P.T, it’s early (for Punahou), but for a first game, there were very few errors. Having all this “extra time” to practice is a blessing rather than a curse. Remember the olden days when teams had two- and three-a-days and games didn’t happen until late August?

  4. Smoking Duck August 30, 2014 11:46 pm

    How does Ryder Kuhns lose his starting QB job? The StarAdvertiser had him listed as the #1 QB in the state in preseason. Someone got to explain that to me. I wonder if St Louis is tired of explaiing how Marcus Mariota did not start until his senior year and how Jeremiah Masoli never played at all.

  5. bleedred August 31, 2014 9:18 pm

    Both Sophomore QB’s on the Puns and Crusaders are complete studs. Hawaii football continues to produce quality footballers. Cheers to another great Football season in Hawaii.

  6. Smoking Duck September 1, 2014 2:38 am

    bleedred, Hawaii does indeeded continue to produce great players. But those great players are now concentrated on 4 teams, St Louis, Punahou, Kahuku and Mililani, making for gross mismacthes when those teams play other schools. I remember how balanced the ILH was in the 1970s. My faddah would take me to games and we would watch the tripleheaders. Blame St Louis. Punahou had to recruit to keep up with them. I think Pac-5 and Iolani have given up, either not wanting to sell their souls to have acedemically deficient players or not wanting to be in a recruiting war with St Louis.

  7. bleedred September 1, 2014 12:57 pm

    SmokingDuck, well said. But you still gotta love those “diamond in the ruffs”, Tuimasealii from Waianae two years ago, Nanakuli’s got a lineman going to University of Colorado next year, I think Kaiser has a couple of players with D1 offers etc..

  8. Real September 1, 2014 3:26 pm

    Smoking Duck sell their soul? And do you mean ACADEMICALLY deficient? Don’t speak of what you know nothing about. True, the talent at those 4 schools you mentioned are at a premium, but don’t downplay the work that those boys put in on the field AND in the classroom. These kids choose at the school they are at. Don’t blame them for wanting to have quality educations and to be coached by the best coaches the state has to offer. And yes , I remember days when the competition seemed to be more equally distributed. I have heard this argument for years now. Typically from a parent of a student-athlete who attends a school that is struggling on the field. My response has always been the same to this; what kind of message are you sending to the kids that don’t attend a Mililani, Kamehameha, Kahuku, Saint Louis, Punahou? That they cant compete with these schools? That their talents are inadequate? It’s seems like the people that argue this point spend so much time thinking about how these schools are ‘stealing talent’ that they forget to pass on to their kids the secret to success on the field and in life…HARD WORK! The schools that continue to have success know all about that. Rather than sulk and talk bad about schools because they have talented athletes, why not bite your tongue, drop your head, and keep pushing? Work harder. And then the other teams would be more competitive. That’s the kind of Hawaii football that I grew up watching. A tough brand if football where there was no underdogs because of the mentality of the players throughout the state. No fear and relentlessness. These days only a few teams dominate because the other schools lose before the game is played. Either they fail to work hard and improve their game, or their scared.

  9. Real September 1, 2014 3:42 pm

    Smoking Duck and in response to your first comment, you clearly haven’t seen Tagovailoa play yet. I too was a Ryder Kuhns fan, but this sophomore is phenomenal. Plays with poise well beyond his years. Marcus Mariota developed into a great quarterback. He played sparingly his junior year behind an experienced (and underrated) senior, Jeremy Higgins. And correction, Jeremiah Masoli did play. He came to Saint Louis his senior year and split time with Cameron Higgins. Both quarterbacks played well that year, but it was a small, scrappy Punahou team that beat the Crusaders 3 times that year (2005). This was just before Punahou had become a popular destination for many great athletes. That 2005 Buff n Blu team didn’t have loads of division 1 talent (if any). But they were scrappy and fearless, and came with three yards of upsetting a much better Kahuku team in the state championship (28-21). And Kahuku team was LOADED with division 1 and future NFL talent. Which goes to show that hardwork and a fearless attitude can elevate the game of a team that was expected (by almost the whole state) to get slaughtered by Kahuku.

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