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.