HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Punahou boys soccer team dogpiled last night after beating Kalani 3-2 to win the state title.
Punahou scores late to win state soccer
Ben Strand punches in the game-winner in a 3-2 victory
For 79 minutes, Kalani stood toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Punahou Buffanblu before junior Ben Strand put a sudden and shocking end to the Falcons' dream season.
Meadow Gold Dairies/HHSAA Boys State Soccer Championship
All games at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex
» Punahou 3, Kalani 2
» Roosevelt 2, Leilehua 1
» Kamehameha-Maui 1, Kamehameha 1, draw
» Kealakehe 1, Kapaa 1, draw
Christopher Walker (Most Outstanding), Nicholas Love and Will Jensen, Punahou; Ian Garrod (GK), Danny Higa, Carter Kam and Dylan Taschner, Kalani; Ryan Pena, Roosevelt; Bryant Moniz, Nicholas Popa (GK) and Syd Tom, Leilehua; Kekoa Osorio, Kamehameha
Strand broke a 2-2 tie in the game's final minute, blasting the rebound off of a shot past Kalani goalkeeper Ian Garrod to give the Buffanblu a 3-2 victory in the championship game of the Meadow Gold Dairies/HHSAA Boys Soccer State Championships last night at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.
The Buffanblu (15-1-1) have now won 16 state titles under coach Bob Clague dating back to the first state tournament held in 1974.
With the game apparently headed for overtime, Punahou's Caton Smith rocketed a desperation shot that hit Garrod dead on, but was hit so hard that the Falcons goalie couldn't corral it, allowing Strand to sneak in and put in the game-winning score.
"I usually don't follow shots like that up as hard, but (Smith) just blasted that ball and I thought there might be a rebound," Strand said. "Instincts took over and I just dove for that ball as hard as I could."
It's the second consecutive title for the Buffanblu and third in a row for a team from the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which has been home to 24 of the 34 boys state champions. Despite all that, it's just Punahou's second championship in the last 10 years.
"What can you say after a game like that?" Clague said. "Kalani deserved all the respect in the world, but we've had to come from behind before so it wasn't anything unusual for us."
The win couldn't have been any sweeter for Clague, who said this would be his last game as coach of the Buffanblu, ending a 34-year tenure in which he has seen many great games, but ranked this one right near the top.
"It was just so back-and-forth," he said. "I don't really know what to say."
The one difference between most of the other titles Punahou has won compared to this one is that the Buffanblu did it unseeded. Kamehameha won the regular-season ILH title, thus earning the top seed, which forced the Buffanblu to win four games in four nights.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Troy Yasuda of Punahou and Wataru Kumagai of Kalani battled for the ball during last night's final.
Punahou showed signs of fatigue early on as the upset-minded Falcons took control from the outset, dominating possession of the ball in Punahou's territory. The Buffanblu struggled multiple times to clear the ball from in front of the goal, and Kalani's Carter Kam eventually made them pay, blasting a shot past Punahou goalkeeper Matthew Yen in the 14th minute to give the Falcons an early 1-0 lead. It was the first time all tournament that the Buffanblu trailed in a game.
"They really had us on the ropes early on," Clague said. "We had a hard time with the 3-5-2 and had to make a few adjustments. They really took it to us."
Kalani continued to put heat on Yen as Kam missed a golden opportunity to increase the Falcons lead just a minute later, pushing a shot just right of the goal that would have made it 2-0. Instead, the Buffanblu managed to settle down, and sophomore Alessi Sia took a ball that bounced off two defenders and put it just over the head of Garrod in the 33rd minute to tie the game 1-1. The score stayed that way through the end of the half, a half in which Kalani actually attempted more shots (nine) than the Buffanblu.
The late goal by Sia seemed to give Punahou the momentum going into the second half, but the Falcons stole it away in the blink of an eye. Off a Kalani corner kick, Punahou's Yen tried to make the save, but bobbled the ball and dropped it in front of him. Falcons halfback Danny Higa happened to be in the right spot and put the ball past Yen to give the Falcons the lead back.
As all great champions do, the Buffanblu answered in the 66th minute as Deryck Lim put in a header off a throw-in that went all the way to the front of the goal to tie the game back at 2. Lim almost put the Buffanblu ahead 3 minutes later, but Garrod made a diving save of his shot to keep the game tied. It stayed that way before Strand's last-minute heroics.
"Our league is so competitive that we play so many strong teams, it helps our preparation for games like these," Clague said. "I'm a little biased but I think (playing in) the ILH does help us out."
The Falcons finished the season 12-5-1, but coach Myles Arakawa won't let last night's loss take away from what has been a magical season at Kalani.
"Win or lose, it's all about helping these kids learn how to play the game and grow as individuals, and in that regards, this season has been a success," Arakawa said. "When (the coaches) came here three years ago, we had to first change the attitude here at Kalani before we could think about getting to this point."
A point that just two years ago seemed unlikely Kalani would ever reach.