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).
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?