HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Defense picks up Red Raiders
Trailing by nine in the fourth quarter and with the offense struggling to consistently move the ball down the field, the Kahuku defense knew it needed to make a big play to change the momentum of the game.
The Red Raiders just didn't realize it would take four.
Kahuku forced two key interceptions by Chico Ramirez, a safety by Kaniela Tuipulotu and an interception by Suaesi Tuimaunei in the end zone with 30 seconds left as Kahuku scored 16 points and forced three turnovers in the game's final 8 minutes to defeat Punahou 28-21 in the championship game of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Division I football state championship last night at Aloha Stadium.
Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai put the game in his defense's hands by punting the ball on a fourth-and-1 play with 10 minutes to go, despite trailing 21-12. But even he had no idea how big the defense would come through.
"The defense really turned it up when it counted," Livai said. "We thought about going for it and talked about it during the timeout but decided just to punt. We had lots of time."
The defense forced a quick three and out after the punt that set up a long touchdown run by Malosi Te'o. Then, on the first play of Punahou's ensuing drive, Ramirez made a diving interception on a tipped ball, but the Red Raiders couldn't take advantage and had to punt. After the punt was downed at the 2-yard line, Kahuku's defense forced two incompletions before Tuipulotu came up the middle and tackled Punahou's Kainoa Carlson in the end zone for a safety that gave Kahuku a one-point lead.
"We were just yelling out run," Tuipulotu said. "I saw my guard pull out and I just got lucky."
With Kahuku holding its first lead of the game, Ramirez intercepted Kan again, this time returning it inside the 10-yard line to set up another Kahuku touchdown.
"I just thank God for letting me be in the right place at the right time," Ramirez said. "And when I did catch those picks, the offense did the rest."
The Buffanblu would have one last chance to send the game into overtime as they drove the ball down to the Kahuku 3-yard line with under 30 seconds left, but Tuimaunei intercepted Kan's pass in the back corner of the end zone to ice the game.
"We knew they were going to pass," Tuimaunei said. "Our team captains were just telling us don't give up and they have a lot of faith in our team. Everybody believes in everybody."
"We have a lot of faith in each other and we know we can make plays and do what we have to do," Ramirez added.
And those plays are why the Red Raiders now have four state championships in the last six years and have as good a chance as anybody to do it again next year.