With the game — and perhaps, the season — at stake, Punahou got the lucky bounce it needed.
A long kick deflected off the head of a Kamehameha defender right to Punahou senior Lahaina Zoller, who calmly floated the ball over goalkeeper Leila Machado for the game-winning score in the 78th minute to give the Buffanblu a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Warriors yesterday at Punahou.
The goal gave the Buffanblu (8-1-1) the inside track to the regular-season Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship and a first-round bye in the state tournament.
"It was certainly the biggest challenge we’ve faced all season," Punahou coach Matt Martinson said. "Kamehameha is an absolutely terrific team, and I give them as much credit as anyone else this year."
Kamehameha (6-1-3) entered the game needing a win to put its playoff future in its own hands. With the loss, the Warriors need either Punahou to lose its final two games or ‘Iolani (8-1-2) to lose its last game to have a chance to qualify for states.
"We knew that it was going to be a physical game that would go back and forth and both teams have such great attacking power that goals were going to be scored," Kamehameha coach Melissa Moore said. "It was a pretty even game, but we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities in the box."
Punahou never trailed in the match, but couldn’t put the Warriors away either. A goal by Kamehameha senior Gabby Yates tied the game for the third time in the 68th minute.
The Buffanblu would have still been in decent shape to clinch a spot in states with a tie, but got the win on the goal by Zoller that capped a wild second half.
The teams combined for four goals after the break following a first half in which the only goal was scored by Punahou’s Dempsey Banks off a long throw in.
Zoller, who along with Ally Holtz at the other forward spot gave Kamehameha fits, was making a run at the goal when the deflected ball landed right in front of her. One dribble and a soft kick over the goalie’s head was all it took to give the Buffanblu a hard-fought win.
"All I saw was the ball go over me and an open goal behind, and I just … kicked it," Zoller said.
Kamehameha dominated the opening 15 minutes, taking five shots before Punahou even got a look at the goal. Toward the end of the first half, the Buffanblu started to settle down and counter, which eventually led to the opening goal by Banks.
"We had to organize our defense," Martinson said. "And then once we got the ball it took us awhile to iron some things out, but what was impressive was the composure that our girls showed, even under the pressure Kamehameha was bringing against us."
Trailing 1-0 at the break, Kamehameha got right back in the game when Caprice Dydasco converted a penalty kick in the 44th minute.
Punahou’s Kaylin Okuma answered, putting in a goal off a corner kick in the 61st minute. The Buffanblu nearly made it a two-goal game, but Danielle Stollar’s shot bounced off the post.
Yates eventually found the back of the net to tie the game at 2-all, setting the stage for Punahou’s late-game heroics.
The goal not only gave Punahou control of its own destiny, but was a good bounce-back game from its only loss of the season.
"It wasn’t just the win but more of coming back from a loss to ‘Iolani and coming together," Zoller said. "We picked each other up and were able to get the win, which was huge."