Punahou survives an emotional affair

The Red Raiders lost  heartbreaker to Punahou  in Lee Leslie's first year at the helm. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser
The Red Raiders lost heartbreaker to Punahou
in Lee Leslie’s first year at the helm. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

Walking onto the Aloha Stadium field mere seconds after Kanawai Noa‘s interception sealed Punahou’s 13-10 win over Kahuku in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships on Saturday night, it immediately became apparent this wasn’t your typical high school football game.

Emotions, as they always do, filled both sidelines. The thrill of victory on the Punahou side after Jet Toner‘s game-winning 48-yard field goal was easy to see. Dejection on the faces of Kahuku’s players after it nearly pulled off an upset nobody outside of the North Shore saw coming.

It all came to a head when the two teams shook hands at midfield. Noa was first in line for the Buffanblu, but behind him was linebacker Saitui Moea’i, who lives in the Kahuku district. By the time Noa was done shaking hands and giving hugs, Moea’i was still 30 players away from making it to the end of the line. One-by-one, he hugged friends, guys he had grown up with. Down the line he went, until the last Kahuku player remained.

Kahuku senior Alohi Gilman, head down, still in shock after the final pass of the final game was just inches out of his reach, looked up to see Moea’i, one of his best friends. The two embraced for a long time, not saying much other than congratulating each other. Back in line, cousins Semisi and Siotame Uluave finally got to one another and shared a similar embrace. Punahou running back Wayne Taulapapa spent as much time near the Kahuku sideline getting congratulated by family and friends as he did on the other side.

The teams were so connected, so intertwined, so familiar with each other, that it made sense in hindsight the game played out the way it did. Kahuku’s defense, which cemented itself as the best in the state in 2014, was ready for everything Punahou could throw at it. The only difference was the leg of Toner, whose 48-yard field goal would have been good from 60.

The Buffanblu had 147 total yards and negative-4 yards rushing. Both teams turned it over seven times.

“It was a rough game,” Noa admitted. “It was an emotional. Kahuku has a lot of ties at Punahou.”

The common sense reasoning would be the emotions of so many players on the field. Keep in mind, it was about more than just the North Shore kids that left Kahuku to play for Punahou. The Buffanblu seniors, like Noa, who started the game with a dynamic 83-yard kick return for a touchdown and ended it with an interception, with nine catches for 89 yards in between, had never beaten Kahuku. The Red Raiders beat them twice in 2012, including in the state final.

Reggie Torres, who won three state titles at Kahuku before his sudden dismissal at the end of last season, was there on the Buffanblu sideline as Punahou’s offensive line coach. Imagine his emotions as those final seconds ticked down.

This wasn’t your typical playoff game from the opening kick until the clock struck zero.


  1. RedAlert293 November 16, 2014 5:06 am

    Congrats to both of these teams, one of the greatest playoff games in history. No excuses about referee calling because it was bad on both sides. The top two defensive teams this year…what a battle. Keep your heads up Kahuku that was all heart and pride you have nothing to be a shamed of and we support you boys all day evvvverryyyy day! Thank you boys and parents for giving it your all and thank you coaches for your time and dedication, look forward to next season under this current coaching staff and returning players. RR4L!!!

  2. Blue-white November 16, 2014 3:29 pm

    Very good article. I thoroughly enjoyed the game. There were bad calls all around, but isn’t that expected in a HS game? Both teams left it on the field and you gotta love that as a spectator. Kahuku looked more physical, but in the grand scheme of things, it only matters if you have one more point then your opponent. Hats off to all the kids and coaches.

  3. redraider4LYFE November 17, 2014 6:16 am

    Must be nice when you have all the money and resources to buy championships.

  4. Same Ol Same Ol November 17, 2014 10:47 am

    Punahou went up against one of the worst offenses. I wouldn’t call their defense Top 2.

  5. Guest November 17, 2014 1:14 pm

    redraider4lyfe must be nice to still be sour. Lol. C’mon man. If Punahou didn’t win you’d be fine with their recruiting. But because they won, you revert back to playing the “recruiting” card. Buying Champioship. Lol. Talk about giving the North shore a bad name. Especially when the North shore boys on Punahou’s team are PROUD to be from the North Shore. Maybe you can learn a few things from them boys. Attending a different School don’t define where they from.

    Same Ol Same Ol well they’re fine with being one of the last 2 defenses still playing in D1. Personally I’d rather still be playing and for a Champioship at that the be ranked top 2 defenses that turned in their pads already.

  6. maukamakai November 17, 2014 2:21 pm

    I think what redraider4LYFE was saying is not about buying/recruiting players, but paying out that ref that called those 2 bogus PI calls on Punahou’s winning drive. Any ref will tell you that you let the players finish the game, unless there is an obvious foul committed you don’t call something that is questionable, let alone twice in a row. smh!!

    Oh well a win is a win and red raider nation will take it into next season and come back with a chip on our shoulder as we always do when the refs decide who they want to win. Oh and BTW pun nation enjoy your last playoff season because the big boy is back on your block and he recruits better then you. j/k #notreally

  7. Guest November 17, 2014 3:42 pm

    Maukamakai if he meant it that way, then what Championship did they win (buy) on Saturday? Unless he meant they bought the referee for this weeks game.

    Anyways I totally agree with you about the future. This is Punahou’s best and probably last chance to win a State Championship. With St Louis back in the picture, It will be hard for Kahuku to hold on to their home grown talent with Punahou and St Louis battling for those players. St Louis all probably be taking some town side players too. Farrington is lucky to have a young team. But I think they’ll lose some future players to St. Louis too.

    Next year, I think it’ll be between Kahuku, St Louis, Mililani and Farrington.

  8. maukamakai November 17, 2014 4:01 pm

    The toughest game Punahou will face this season was already played last week against Kahuku. Punahou will handle Mililani fairly easily this week like they did last year so yeah we are prematurely awarding the Championship to Punahou.

  9. Hiilei November 18, 2014 11:02 am

    Bottom line is Punahou and Miliani won. Farington and Kahuku lost. Yes the refs blew it!! we can sit here and debate about it and still Punahou and Miliani are playing of the championship game. Enough with the excuses on why Kahuku lost and how much money Punahou has to pay off the refs and why Punahou isn’t a top 2 Defense because they went against a crappy offense
    (Kahuku) Bunch of crybabies!! It aint Punahou or Mililani fault that Kahuku has a crappy offense. U guys hired (L. Lee) to coach and he was supposed to be this offense guru from Idaho. Its gonna take time to work and jus like how it took time for u guys to finally win a championship after getting ur butts spanked by the Crusaders for so many years. You jus can’t win it all!! Well St.Louis did it for almost 14-16 years in a row. anyways thats besides the point. Good luck to both teams!!

  10. keokiana November 18, 2014 12:00 pm

    Was on the mainland when this game happened, which, historically, has always been a fantastic battle that was always won by Kahuku. I was there for those games, and those Kahuku victories were just as emotional as this one, for all the same reasons . So, first of all, congratulations to the young men of Punahou for their victory – and to the men of Kahuku for giving Punahou their most grueling battle ever this year- as your predecessors before you have always done. To both teams, you have brought honor to your schools, and most importantly, to your families and the home communities you represent, no matter which side of the ball you played on. Auwe to those of you who tried to take away from this focus – which is the play of the kids!

    As for those of you who are sour grapes and predicting loss of player talent from teams because of recruitment by private, big bucks schools like Punahou, you probably don’t know what sacrifices are made by families from Kahuku who make the choice to move their child to school far away from home, particularly when that child is a football player whose parents feel such pride and love for their home school.

    Most Red Raiders want to pass that legacy of Kahuku pride to their children – so when they do take that step to send their child elsewhere. it is not a decision that is made lightly or just because of a single factor. Ultimately, they see better long term outcomes for their children – be it in terms of better educational opportunities, playing opportunities, and opportunities beyond high school. Sending your child out of Kahuku to a school like Punahou for example, means tremendous sacrifices for both the child, the parents, and the rest of the family as well. It means that that child will be dedicating at least 13 hours away from home, then have to come home, do homework and chores, and maybe get six hours of sleep if he or she is lucky – before it is time to get up and do it all over again. Parents also make financial sacrifices, because even with some financial assistance, you still to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for other things that are not covered by financial aid. And finally, there are the unspoken but very real vibes you get from others in the Red Raider nation when you do this- vibes that are not meant to give you a good feeling for what you did.
    On the flip side, there are those parents who turn down offers from the big gun high schools, because they feel Kahuku provides their children with the best future outcomes, and they too look at what advantages their children will experience by not moving out of area, including the fact that Kahuku has a far greater legacy of football successes in college AND the NFL than Punahou. Additionally, there are kids from the North Shore who go to private schools out of the area to play football, but return home because they want to play for Kahuku.

    As for future recruitment out of Kahuku, the fact that Reggie Torres now coaches there will not go unnoticed by certain parents, so it was a brilliant strategical move by Punahou Athletics. Reggie is a great coach and Kahuku’s loss is Punahou’s gain.


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