Punahou gets back up


POSTED: Sunday, September 20, 2009

Maybe it was the turning point.

The shot heard 'round the world.

In week five of the prep football season, Punahou shed its cocoon and broke out with an offensive smorgasbord against top-ranked Saint Louis. The Buffanblu's 23-21 win knocked the Saints out of first place, and turned the Interscholastic League of Honolulu into a wild frontier again. Three Division I teams—Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis—have one defeat in league play. D-II 'Iolani has no ILH losses.

“;There went our trump card, that's all it was,”; said Saints coach John Hao, who stayed up all night watching game footage. “;Now we gotta play balls out.”;

Narrow down Friday's game to three facets and they might be these:

» A commitment to run the ball

» Two perfectly timed bombs by Kaiana Eldredge for touchdowns

» A puzzling call on fourth and 1 by Saint Louis


















No. 9 Punahou23
No. 1 Saint Louis21





Until Friday, D-I defenses had little reason to fear Eldredge's arm. In losses to No. 2 Kahuku, No. 3 Mililani and No. 5 Kamehameha, he was 20-for-64 for 296 yards with no touchdown tosses and one pick. Friday didn't start much better. He was sacked on the first play from scrimmage before throwing an interception on the next snap. When he returned in the second quarter, Eldredge and running back Stabren Caires bungled a handoff exchange for another turnover.

That was the bottom for Punahou.

Thanks to a stout performance by their defense, the Buffanblu were down just 6-0 at that point. Caires' 27-yard kick return was followed by successive carries of 23, 1 and 12 yards out of Punahou's wing formations and pistol sets (with a variance of an unbalanced line). Steven Lakalaka blasted his way up the gut for a 13-yard touchdown, capping an all-ground attack for a 7-6 Punahou lead.

Eldredge then surprised Saint Louis with his deep throws. The first, an 80-yard strike to Forrest Kim, was right over the top, beyond Saints safeties. The second, a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ioane, was also perfect.

Skip ahead and Punahou is ahead 20-15 early in the fourth quarter. Punter Chase Tamashiro's punt is downed at the Saints' 5-yard line. An incomplete pass, an 8-yard run by Vonn Feao and a 1-yard pickup by Emmett McShane set up fourth and 1 for the Saints from their own 14.

Time to punt.

Or is it? There's no hesitation. Hao kept his offense on the field, and with more than 8 minutes left in the game, backup quarterback Marcus Mariota was in the shotgun. The lanky junior had shown great acceleration on Wildcat-style keepers, but Punahou's defense wouldn't overcommit.

Ioane, playing linebacker, was first to greet Feao when he took the handoff from Mariota 3 yards deep in the backfield. Geoffrey Miller followed suit and closed out the play. Punahou took over at the 11-yard line.

“;We've been having problems with punting. We weren't getting distance,”; Hao said. “;I'm trying to find a punter who can be consistent. I might as well go for it on fourth down if we're going to punt to an area where they can get a field goal anyway.”;

Turns out Hao's gamble wasn't a gamebreaker. Saint Louis' defense allowed only a field goal by Kaimi Fairbairn. With more than 6 minutes left, the Saints had time to rally from a 23-15 deficit.

Saint Louis eschewed its tight double-slot formations and went back to its five- and four-wide shotgun sets to score on a touchdown run by Jeremy Higgins with 2:51 left, but the 2-point conversion to tie the game failed.

For Saint Louis, it was another heart-breaking loss in the clutch, not altogether different from last year's last-minute defeat to 'Iolani. At 34-5 in the past three-plus seasons, the Crusaders are pounding the castle wall, but are still outside.

Punahou? Maybe it was a one-shot deal on a night when they simply couldn't afford to lose again.

But what a shot it was.