Punivai thanks Castle’s defense for 231-yard performance

Castle's Derek Cabinatan-Clemente knocked the ball out of the hands of Moanalua's Makana Spencer. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Moanalua found a magic formula early on and stuck with it.

Eight wins and no losses into the season, Na Menehune had no reason to change their stunningly effective short-passing game.

Castle? A season of struggle included a controversial practice video. The Knights didn’t have a winning formula of their own until linebacker Senituli Punivai was converted to quarterback. Since then, Castle’s rough 0-4 start has turned into gold.

Punivai, operating almost exclusively out of an elephant formation, rushed for a whopping 231 yards and three TDs in a stunning 28-14 win over No. 7 and previously-unbeaten Moanalua in the semifinals of the OIA Division I playoffs on Saturday night at John Kauinana Stadium.

It didn’t matter if there was a major hole or the slimmest crease. Punivai’s ability to read his blockers and trust their lead made for compelling football, even though the Knights rarely attempted a forward pass. The biggest play of the game may have been on a key third-and-7 late in the game when Punivai lofted a 22-yard pass to Jonah Figueroa for a first down.

“It’s just practicing every day, getting that rep with the linemen. You know, I’d like to thank the defense at first for getting us the ball and getting us the opportunity to get the yardage and score, and keep driving,” Punivai said. “Great job to all my coaches for keeping us in check, keeping our head up.”

It was a night of destiny for Castle (5-6), which had lost to Moanalua 46-21 just three weeks earlier. They came to the rematch with a sticky, but disciplined 3-3-5 defense, which led to seven sacks of Moanalua QB Nick Au. Though the Knights opened a 21-7 lead, Moanalua refused to surrender and pulled within a score.

“Our coach was talking to us, Coach John (Hao), all the coaches, to stay calm and keep fighting,” Punivai said.

Using a similar elephant formation, Kaimuki had a 223-yard night by Naomas Asuega-Fualaau in the earlier game, a 30-14 win over Kaiser in an OIA D-II semifinal. The Bulldogs used three blocking backs in the backfield with Asuega-Fualaau. Castle lined up with extra tight ends and only one blocker in the backfield with Punivai. Occasionally, they lined up in trips formation and still ran up the gut, with Punivai following 5-foot-11, 230-pound linebacker-turned-running back Keanu Tilton.

It began, though, in the trenches with Castle’s beefy offensive line.

“They just pick up all the linebackers for Moanalua when they’re blitzing. I just got to make the right read and keep driving,” Punivai said. “When we realized their linebackers were blitzing every play, we threw in our other quarterback (Kanaipono Kahala-Giron) to throw them off.”


  1. ??? October 21, 2018 3:21 am

    Once again Kahuku REGRETTING letting coach Hao go!🤬
    Typical Moanalua, it’s NOT how you start it’s how you FINISH 😂

  2. Knight Time October 21, 2018 5:18 am

    ??? yep and the overrated Mules and Menehunes get exposed big time! Waipahu vs. Castle headed to the Ship!

  3. ChikFilA October 21, 2018 6:48 am

    EXCUSE YOU “???” ?!
    How in the hell YOU is that typical?! It’s the first time, maybe the 2nd they’re undefeated OKOLE this far. Maybe typical in your world but, it was special to these PUKA players.

    And how do you know they’re regretting?

    be happy and humble with what you got!


    Yessah Blessah!

  4. Football mom October 21, 2018 8:50 am

    ???, U find it funny to laugh at young men who worked their hearts outs all season to be undefeated and then to have this heart breaking loss. Rather than kicking the kids when they are down, congratulate both teams for working hard. Shame in u. Grow up!

  5. Football Dad October 21, 2018 9:30 am

    You tell um Football Mom, I knew the trolls couldn’t wait to come out. Good luck to Knight Time, you’ll need it. Waipahu, you’ll be playing against more than just the 11 opposing players on the field, so don’t be surprised.

  6. MOfrown October 21, 2018 9:45 am

    Toughness vs Talent. Toughness won, castle kids beat up on the talented but SOFT Na menehunes. MOANALUA parents to the rescue! lol 😂 change da QB!

  7. PlayahHatah October 21, 2018 10:56 am

    Good luck riding your one trick pony

  8. ??? October 21, 2018 3:25 pm

    Moanalua been Cocky all year football Mom & Dad; so I don’t feel bad at ALL.
    Win & Lose with Class first …

  9. Knight Time October 21, 2018 4:40 pm

    Football Mom and Dad (same split personality) was/were hyping Na Menehune even though they never played Iolani or any other tough non-conference game. ChikFilA gotta be the biggest hypocrite. One minute calling ??? an A$$ (his Okole comment )and in the next breath preaching humility and claiming to be blessed. Let us all know what crazy cult like church you attend so that we can avoid it like the plague. Castle’s running game and O line dominated Na Menehune and Moanalua’s receivers played soft and #6 chirped after every one of his dropped passes. Go Figure!

  10. Fodakeiki October 22, 2018 1:16 pm

    Great showcasing of never doubting your opponent and also never backing down from a challenge! Great game! Congratulations to both teams. It will be hard for Moanalua to get over for a while but also inspiring for others to look at castle and realize that anything can happen when you leave it all on the field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiprepworld@staradvertiser.com.