Punivai prolific again as Castle downs Kailua

Castle quarterback Senituli Punivai scrambled away from Kailua libebacker Koalii Kama-Toth during this Windward rivalry game in 2018. Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Castle in its anticipated Windward rivalry matchup with Kailua.

First, there were supposed to be Golden Knights paratroopers from the National Guard timed to land with the playing of the national anthem. The idea was, they’d present the game ball. A packed crowd waited anxiously for several minutes pregame … only to have it called off due to uncooperative winds in Kaneohe.

Once things got going, the Knights were then tackled for loss on their first three plays from scrimmage for a very quick three-and-out. Then, when Castle forced a stop on Kailua’s ensuing drive, the Knights muffed the punt return and Kailua recovered at the 10. The Surfriders would parlay that into the game’s first touchdown.

Even the scoreboard refused to cooperate for much of the game, flickering on and off.

But thanks to converted running back/quarterback Senituli Punivai, just about everything else for Castle was … great. The Knights rode the wiry 5-foot-11 senior, plus a couple of short-yardage TDs from Bruce Pakele, to a 38-21 win over the Surfriders.

Punivai continued his stellar play since being conscripted at QB by coach John Hao two weeks ago mid-game at Nanakuli. The Knights (3-4, 3-3 OIA Division I) haven’t lost since, and are in position for an OIA playoff berth if they can win at Aiea in a huge matchup next week.

“The coaches (have) been helping me every day, studying the plays,” said Punivai, who credited his linemen for openings and defense for returning the ball to the offense several times. “I mean, I’m a running back … but I just work hard and do what I gotta do.”

He rolled up 233 yards on 30 carries, including touchdown runs of 12, 15 and 18 yards. The last two came in the final 3:13, both on short fields after Kailua muffed punt and kickoff returns.

Were it not for a couple of sacks for double-digit yardage lost, we’d be talking about Punivai as Castle’s new single-game rushing leader. Even with that, he finished No. 2 in the Knights’ records, behind only Nicasio Rediros’ 249 in a 46-20 win over Moanalua in 1978.

Kailua’s Shayden Baker (31) and Castle Nicholas Saragosa (25) fought for a fumble during a kickoff return in the first half on Friday. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

“All glory goes to God. Thank you for this opportunity,” Punivai said of the numbers. “You know, like Coach said, every day we just gotta work hard and it pays off.”

How is he so effective? Well, Punivai will take the direct snap, like a wildcat, and often dance around behind his linemen, probing for openings, before darting through or around for a big gain. He’s proven he’s got a quickness advantage over almost everyone on the field, and he’s tough enough to take hits and stay on his feet. Two, and maybe even all three, of his touchdowns Friday came after he absorbed at least one hit.

“It’s actually a hybrid,” Hao said of the setup. “It is my pass spread. So what we’ve been doing for the last couple weeks is, because he’s not a true quarterback, they’ll line up, I make the read on the defense, and I’ll call the play. So if they bring six or seven in the box, I’m throwing it outside, because Tuli can throw. … He proved that last week (four passing TDs in a 45-33 win over Radford). If you keep five or six in the box, I got a running back to block, I’ll put that running back on a defensive end or linebacker, and run the ball. Tuli makes good decisions finding the holes.”

Meanwhile, Kailua (1-6, 1-4) is searching for a hallelujah moment at quarterback like the one that Castle experienced. Cole Weber got the start Friday over regular Raynen Ho-Mook, but Weber was lifted after four series after going 0-for-3 passing. Ho-Mook actually put together a nice line from there, going 8-for-12 for 109 yards and a 23-yard touchdown to Kamryn Kahoonei. That capped a 72-yard drive that brought the Surfriders within 24-21 late in the third quarter.

Very untimely turnovers prevented Kailua from having a chance late. Besides the aforementioned muffed returns, there was a lost fumble on a mishandled snap at the Surfriders’ 5 right after an interception gave Kailua a chance to drive for the lead. Castle parlayed that into easy points, something the Surfriders really didn’t need with Punivai wreaking havoc.

“Containing the quarterback, yeah, there was a lot of mistakes on the outside,” Kailua coach Joseph Wong said. “And our guy needs to do a better job at that. He needs to be square to the line of scrimmage. I was yelling that all game. It’s just we didn’t have an answer, a replacement for him at the outside. You gotta just go with what you spot and hopefully they fix it. Coaches was trying to fix it, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Running back Brian-Allen Kamanu had Kailua’s opening touchdown and put together some nice runs (11 for 65 yards) in stepping in for Samson Rasay for most of the second half. Lahaina Kane had the Surfriders’ other TD, a 2-yarder, soon after a huge kickoff return by Shayden Baker.

Senituli Punivai after going off for 233 yards on the ground against Kailua. / Photo by Brian McInnis


  1. ??? September 22, 2018 11:38 am

    John Hao found his QB.
    Good job Castle.

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