A Miracle Season

Buff 'n Blue nab elusive football state title

Department: Athletics

By Diane Pizarro

When Punahou defeated Leilehua on a breezy December evening at Aloha Stadium to win the school's first state football championship, it capped a year of historic accomplishments for the school.

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Photo courtesy of www.jonbphotography.com

First, Sports Illustrated named Punahou's high school athletic program No. 1 in the nation. Then, Punahou alumnus Barack Obama '79 was elected president. And on game day, Punahou standout Manti Te‘o '09 became the first high school player ever to receive the Butkus Award® for the best high school linebacker.

When the No.1-ranked Buff 'n Blue entered the field to compete for the HHSAA Division I State Football Championship for the second time in four years, some might have thought it was theirs to lose.

But Athletic Director Tom Holden said this wasn't merely about winning a football game. "The caution is that we never really look at winning as the goal," Holden said. "Our goal is to make sure that the kids reach their potential and sometimes that results in a championship and sometimes it doesn't." The 11-year athletic director will retire in June and would arguably love to see his team capture the state's 10-year-old football championship, a title the school has never won.

"He's the one who put the most pressure on me," said head football coach Kale Ane '70, joking. "It's his last year and he said ‘you have to win!'"Ane said a few days after the game as he and the athletic director shared a hearty laugh in Holden's office.

Expectations aside, the Buff 'n Blue led by quarterback Cayman Shutter '09, came out fighting, scoring a touchdown in the first drive and holding the defending state champion Leilehua Mules to just one touchdown, in the final seconds of the first half. And despite the 38 - 7 blowout, the players fought their hearts out to the last second.

"It feels great really. It's just one of those feelings that doesn't catch up with you until a little while later," said senior Dalton Hilliard, a team captain. "The night of the big championship we really didn't feel like it was that big, but the next day ... we all were really excited."

"It feels awesome," Ane said. "People are proud of us because we play hard, we play well, we play together."

Rich Hosoda '83, a former Buff 'n Blue wide receiver, described feeling "pure elation" in watching his team win the title. "I thought that Punahou came out with a perfect game plan." Hosoda said. "Punahou is good in so many sports and we've won so many state championships in other sports, but the one that has always escaped us is football," he said. "The first time is always the sweetest."

Coach and players alike agree it was a player who didn't play that motivated this team to bring home the title. As Ane tells it, offensive linebacker Ian Pene '09 suffered an injury early in the season and was forced to sit out the rest of his senior year. "It was just difficult because he's such a good kid, and he's never going to play again [for Punahou]." Ane said he was inspired by Ian's attitude. "He spoke to the team about how you should really grasp the moment because you never know when something's going to be taken away from you."

Pene's emotions were still raw several days after the game. "This is hard," he said. "Being by myself I would think about it and wish I was playing. But when I was with the team, I just tried putting that aside ... It's all about the team, and the team got to the States without me on the field, and I couldn't be any more proud of the O-line."

On the evening of the big game, Pene's dedication and sacrifice moved the players to give it their all. "At half time, a lot of us got really emotional," Hilliard recalled. "I remember telling our offensive guys that these last 24 minutes that we play - the third and fourth quarter - you've got to play it like it's your last. Because Ian can't play so you gotta play for him," he said.

Hilliard's words sunk in, and the offensive line was virtually untouchable. What does the win mean for the school? As Holden sees it, the victory "re-energizes and puts excitement into the program that was always there. This brings the community together."

Diane Pizarro is a journalist and parent of a Punahou Kindergartner.

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