It started with a long trip to the islands. Then came a luau, followed a day later by a Hawaiian-style pig roast (imu-style). In all, four sunny days on the North Shore leading up to a big game against Punahou.
It was a perfect Hawaiian vacation for the Torrey Pines Falcons, defending champions of the CIF’s Avocado League (San Diego Section). Ranked No. 8 by San Diego Prep Insider, they’re a team that never stops training year-round, going virtually non-stop in the “off-season” for a chance to win titles and perhaps a big game in the islands. The game plan was set, the execution was fairly good, and the visitors from Del Mar, Calif. were within 7 points at halftime, and again within 7 in the fourth quarter.
Punahou, ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Football Top 10, simply had too much depth and staying power, speeding up its no-huddle offense in the second half en route to a 23-7 win on Friday night at Aloha Stadium.
On the field, the Falcons worked hard on the lush greens at Turtle Bay Resort during daily practices. Off the field, they maxed out their experiences with local-style fun.
“We did a lot of things we wanted to do,” Torrey Pines coach Ron Gladnick said. “We’ve had a great experience. Our kids bonded. We got to meet people on the island. We had a luau and a Hawaiian barbecue. Ten years from now, nobody’s going to remember the score of this game, but the boys will remember all the things they did.”
On Friday night, the Falcons got solid ground work from Mac Bingham (91 yards) and Sully O’Brien (95 yards). They racked up 233 rushing yards on 45 attempts out of the wing-T, but a good chunk came after Punahou had a two-possession lead.
Punahou’s defense, led by linebacker Maninoa Tufono, was physical from start to finish. It was a punishing display against a tough Falcons offensive line and gritty ballcarriers in O’Brien and Bingham. Tufono was one of the many Buffanblu swarming to the ball; he was selected Punahou’s defensive MVP of the game.
“I’m thankful that I stayed true to my keys and made the plays I had to make,” Tufono said. “At halftime, we make our adjustments, lining up differently. The big thing is just wrapping up, making tackles.”
The visitors wanted to grind down the clock on both sides of the ball. They did that, shortening the first half in this respect: Punahou had a mere four possessions: punt, TD, fumble, fumble. It was Dick Tomey football, UH era, at its best. Force turnovers. Eat the clock. Play great defense. Win the battle on special teams, or try to.
Leading 14-7 late in the third quarter, Punahou could have slowed everything down. Play cautiously. Minimize risk. Instead, Stephen Barber turned up the tempo and Punahou drove 74 yards to paydirt against a resilient defense that seemed just a bit fatigued, especially with four injuries during the game.
Punahou’s pivotal drive, capped by Antonio Cortez Feria’s 1-yard TD, was enough to snuff out some of Torrey Pines’ momentum. Up 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, a wild exchange of interceptions followed before Trent Shiraki tackled Beau Morgans on a reverse play for a safety.
“Our tempo and our ability to go fast — they had a lot of two-way players so going fast really helped,” said Barber, who passed for 244 yards, rushed for 94 and was named Punahou’s offensive MVP for the game.
He connected with wide receiver Tamatoa Falafea on seven passes for 88 yards, but the two also accounted for Punahou’s first-half fumbles. Punahou finished with four turnovers, though one came on a long heave to the goal line on a third-and-long situation that turned into an interception — a de facto punt.
On the ground, the Buffanblu rushed for 202 yards on 36 carries, including 17 rushes by Barber. Sitiveni Kaufusi started and finished with 35 yards on seven carries, and Vincent Terrell added 64 yards on nine rushes. The Buffanblu ran the ball on 59 percent of their plays, though many of them were scrambles by Barber on pass calls.
The Buffanblu were almost unrecognizable at first, wearing pewter-gray jerseys and pants with navy blue and goldenrod stripes. On front, “Sons of Oahu” replaced the usual “Punahou” in a look that is much more impressive up close than from the bleachers.
“They’re pretty smooth. They’re comfortable,” Barber said.