Punahou’s Liufau causes major problems for Campbell

Punahou's Marist Liufau was voted the defensive most valuable player in the ILH Open Division this year by coaches. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

It might be the flowing hair flopping back and forth, but Punahou’s Marist Liufau sure looks like a blur when he turns it on with intense closing speed on a defender.

Liufau has been a force as a Punahou outside linebacker for three seasons now and he dialed up another choice performance Saturday night in the third-ranked Buffanblu’s 43-14 victory over No. 5 Campbell in Ewa Beach.

No score in the first quarter? No problem. Leave it to Liufau. After his punt-team pinned Campbell at its own 1, Liufau blazed in from the left side. He was not fooled by quarterback Kaniala Kalaola‘s fake handoff and went stright to him.

In a split-second, Kalaola was on the ground on Liufau’s sack for a safety. Punahou 2, Campbell 0. One split-second later, Liufau was picking up Kalaola from the ground.

That play got the ball rolling big-time for the Buffanblu (4-2, 4-2 OIA Open). After the ensuing kickoff, Punahou’s offense scored on the next play and it was 9-0 late in the first quarter. The whole second quarter was scoreless and Buffanblu coach Kale Ane said afterward that he was “very worried” with only a nine-point lead at the break.

Campbell quarterback Kaniala Kalaola had to deal with relentless pressure from the Punahou defense all night. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Later on, Liufau swooped in from the outside to sack Kalaola, who happened to be looking for room in all the wrong places.

It’s a common thing to look at the carnage by the Punahou defense and see jersey No. 7 getting up from the pile after making a play. When he’s not in the pile, he’s closing the gap with his speed, making less room for opposing offenses.

It’s no wonder that Liufau, who is 6-foot-2 and only 185 pounds, has nine Division I college offers — from Arizona, Boise State, Hawaii, Oregon, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah, Utah State and Washington State.

“We try to bring Marist from all over the place,” Ane said. “And be loves doing it. He’s a spectacular player. He makes plays at linebacker, in the defensive backfield, at the line. He’s like Troy Polamalu for us. He carries a big stick.”

Only six Hawaii seniors have more Division I offers than Liufau — teammate linebacker Maninoa Tufono (39), Saint Louis defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele (39), Kahuku offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi (26), Buffanblu offensive lineman Duke Clemens (20), Kapolei offensive lineman Julius Buelow (19) and Kahuku linebacker Miki Ah You (13). Two others have just as many offers as Liufau — Kaimuki defensive lineman Sama Paama and Kapolei linebacker Peni Naulu.

“He (Liufau) is the most versatile player I’ve ever seen,” said Punahou receiver Koa Eldredge, who caught four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown against Campbell. “He can be successful from the safety position, from the rover position, the linebacker position. The man can do it all. He has D-I written all over him.”

By the scoreboard, Punahou is seven points behind Saint Louis (a 35-28 loss last week). Can they make it up? The fact that Kapolei came within eight points (30-22 on Friday night) of Saint Louis is an encouraging sign for all of the Open Division competitors.

Sabers coach Darren Johnson came off the field after the loss to Punahou full of vitality. He watched his running back, Sky Lactaoen, bash his way for 147 yards. He also watched his quarterback and receivers miss some really close ones behind a solid offensive line.

“We had some breakdowns and young mistakes,” Johnson said. “But we’re excited about what’s ahead of us.”

What’s ahead is the final few weeks of the regular season and then the real party starts. Saint Louis had a jump on everyone, but all of the other Open teams are doing what they can to catch up.

The Sabers moved the ball well Saturday, with a bit of inconsistency in the passing game. Kalaola went 14-for-37 for 202 yards.

All told, Punahou outgained Campbell in scrimmage yards, 472 (362 passing, 110 rushing) to 311 (202 passing, 109 rushing).

Campbell (4-2, 1-1 OIA Open) takes a crack at Saint Louis (5-0, 4-0 ILH Open) next Friday at home. On the same night, Punahou plays against Kamehameha (3-3, 2-3 ILH Open) at Aloha Stadium.


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