Defense wins championships. Defense wins mid-season showdowns, too. Punahou 24, Kamehameha 0. Factor in these noteworthy events: Kamehameha’s opening drive stalled near the goal line, disrupted by a delay-of-game penalty, and finished with a missed field-goal try. Later, a breakaway run by prolific running back Brandon Kahookele was stopped by hustling Punahou defenders in the red zone. Again, no points for the Warriors.
Finally, a goal-line stand by Punahou in the final minute. Everything meant everything to the Buffanblu. Even after a number of dropped passes early on, missed opportunities for more scores.
It was the kind of No. 1-versus-No. 2 showdown that could’ve been a thriller, and in some ways, it was — despite the final margin. Both teams brought superb pursuit defensively. There were so many more similarities than dissimilarities. But Punahou still has what distinguished its offense the past several seasons: an often wondrous, well-timed passing attack.
When the Buffanblu throw the ball out of that pistol, two-back set, it’s still fresh footage for those of us who hadn’t seen them play since that season opener at Mililani. The return of starters Canton Kaumatule and Ruari Brady steeled up their defensive line, and running back Kotoni Sekona also came back from injury to solidify the running game.
The Warriors’ vaunted defense did this to the “big O”: 56 rushing yards on 27 attempts, limiting Larry Tuileta to 202 passing yards on 52-percent accuracy. Defensively, Kamehameha did a worthy job.
Can Kamehameha develop its passing game enough to take the league title? Of course. But what took Punahou years to build gives it a major edge on the Warriors, who sacked Tuileta several times and still lost by 24. Time is on the Warriors’ side. For now, though, there is no doubt who has the best football team in the islands.