Tevarua Tafiti knows, even though he is just a sophomore, that he belongs.
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound defensive end came up with possibly the biggest play of his young career on Saturday, returning a fumble 70 yards to paydirt as No. 2 Punahou outlasted No. 5 Campbell 31-21 at the Sabers’ field.
“Your grade doesn’t matter in this league. Whoever plays like a big dog will play,” Tafiti said.
He clearly played like a big and hungry playmaker in the trenches. Tafiti was in on a bunch of tackles in the backfield, but the touchdown staked Punahou to a 10-0 lead that proved key. Campbell got within three points in the second half, but never got over the hump. Tafiti showed the speed and athleticism that his teammates have raved about since preseason.
“The ball just landed in my hands. Someone wrapped (the running back) up, he juggled it and I grabbed it, and I ran for the touchdown. I was just trying to run fast. I was trying to be like Vince (Terrell).”
The Buffanblu defensive line has been a huge part of the unit’s success since day one of the season. They penetrated the backfield enough to cause problems for Campbell, which still had a solid ground attack behind Bubbah Aina-Chaves. Punahou simply wouldn’t allow the big play to happen on the ground.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Hiram deFries-Saronitman. He takes the center away and I come up with the A and B (gaps),” Tafiti said. “We try to get mismatches.”
One of the biggest stops of the game came in the second half with Campbell driving in Punahou territory, down 24-14. On fourth and short, Tafiti was the first to stonewall Aina-Chaves behind the line of scrimmage.
Tafiti is not losing his hunger, though.
“It wasn’t my best game. A lot of personal fouls,” he said. “I have to play smarter.”