HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aiea's Josh Blakemore hauled in a touchdown pass in front of Waianae's Chad Paaluhi to put Na Alii ahead 26-15 in the second half yesterday.
Aiea still standing
Quarterback Kali Kuia and a stiff Aiea defense puts Na Alii in next week’s OIA title game
The Cinderella story of the Aiea Na Alii entered a new chapter last night.
Kali Kuia passed for 295 yards and Aiea scored two key touchdowns in a span of 1 minute, 46 seconds in the third quarter for a 26-15 win over Waianae at Aloha Stadium.
Aiea (8-2) continued its remarkable run through the postseason. Ninth-ranked Na Alii will face Kahuku in the championship game of the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference on Friday.
Aiea's stalwart defense limited Waianae to 121 rushing yards and forced three turnovers.
Waianae (7-3) is still alive in the hunt for a state-tournament berth. The Seariders will face Farrington next week in the OIA's third-place game. The league has three of the six state-tourney berths.
"Aiea played hard and played well. Their quarterback was unbelievable," Waianae quarterback Henry Keomalu said. "I hope they take it all the way (in the OIA). I wish them good luck."
Aiea, which was 4-2 in regular-season play, knocked out Leilehua and the top seed in the East, Castle, to qualify for the semifinals. Last night's victory was a turnaround from a 25-6 loss to Waianae on Sept. 16.
"We told the kids, cut out the mistakes and make the tackles," Aiea coach Wendell Say said of halftime adjustments. "We weren't hanging on for the tackles."
Kuia has been superb this season following a junior year that was cut short by a concussion. The left-hander completed 25 of his 30 pass attempts to seven different receivers.
"I have to thank my dogs, the offensive line," he said.
Say believes the sky is the limit for his quarterback.
"He's had some good games, but the best ones are coming up," he said.
Na Alii picked up where they left off after last week's 52-point output against Castle. Out of a shotgun, five-receiver set, Aiea no-huddled on all nine plays of an 82-yard drive to open the game. Kuia connected on five of his first six pass attempts. He snuck in from the 1-yard line to give Aiea a 6-0 lead with 8:23 left in the first quarter.
"The no-huddle was an important factor. We've been using it since the Pearl City game," Kuia said.
Waianae's offense went three and out on its initial series, but on the next possession, the Seariders drove 63 yards in 12 plays. Clifton Santiago-Yoshioka, the up back on the punt team, took a direct snap and raced 24 yards for a key first down.
Darius Fuller went around left end for a 10-yard touchdown, and Keomalu's PAT kick was good for a 7-6 Waianae lead with 23 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
A 44-yard kickoff return by Lofa Liilii gave Aiea good field position at the 50. Despite two sacks, Na Alii reached paydirt again after switching to a two-back formation out of their shotgun. Aleni Loa, a 240-pound running back, provided extra protection for Kuia, who found Liilii on a perfectly executed fade route for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Aiea led 12-7 with 7:54 to play before intermission.
The Seariders received the kickoff to open the second half and marched downfield with conviction. Mixing play-action with the ground game, Keomalu started Waianae on a 12-play, 70-yard scoring march. Keomalu left the game momentarily after taking a hit on a 17-yard completion to Royce Kainoa.
Reserve quarterback Liko Manuel stepped in and connected with Fuller for a 6-yard touchdown pass to give Waianae the lead. Keomalu returned in time for a 2-point conversion try and was collared near the sideline, but a face-mask penalty gave Waianae another attempt. Curtis Jones scored easily off right tackle as the Seariders took a 15-12 lead with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Liilii caught eight passes for 133 yards before halftime, but Waianae adjusted in the second half. The elusive junior finished with 10 receptions for 162 yards, but all the attention he attracted left teammates open.
The game turned in Aiea's favor during the next seven plays from scrimmage. Kuia needed only two plays to move his team 60 yards to the end zone. The senior found Josh Blakemore on a sideline route for a 40-yard touchdown, sending Na Alii ahead 19-15 with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
Up to that point, Blakemore had just two receptions for 4 yards.
"Our coaches wanted me to check the deep balls. That was the first time Josh got deep on the safety," Kuia said.
Two plays into Waianae's ensuing series, Aiea defensive back Stili Malepeai knocked the ball loose from Fuller on an end run, and defensive tackle Isaac Tuilaepa recovered at the Waianae 45-yard line.
"He never saw me coming," Malepeai said. "I just hit him as hard as I could. I thought he still had the ball, but when I stood up, I saw Isaac with the ball."
Three plays later, Aiea switched to an I formation and gave the ball to Mark Higa. The tailback followed Loa, who pancaked two defenders, off left tackle before cutting back for an 11-yard touchdown run. Aiea led 26-15 with 4:28 remaining in the third.
"Aleni is a powerful factor in our scheme. He's a big help," Kuia said.
From that point on, Waianae's offense got no deeper than the Aiea 6-yard line. Manuel completed four passes during a late drive, but was intercepted by Aiea cornerback Adrian Labuda on a slant route. Labuda returned the ball 28 yards to extinguish Waianae's comeback hopes.
"They thought they could get me," Labuda said of Waianae's consecutive tries at the slant pattern. "The quarterback gave me eye contact, and they put their best receiver (Douglas Newman) out there."
No. 9 Aiea 26, No. 6 Waianae 15
At Aloha Stadium
Aiea--Kali Kuia 1 run (kick failed).
Wain--Darius Fuller 10 run (Henry Keomalu kick).
Aiea--Lofa Liilii 19 pass from Kuia (pass failed).
Wain--Fuller 6 pass from Liko Manuel (Curtis Jones run).
Aiea--Josh Blakemore 40 pass from Kuia (Mark Atta kick).
Aiea--Mark Higa 11 run (Atta kick).
RUSHING--Aiea: Liilii 5-28, Mark Higa 2-16, Crenston Ioapo 3-3, Aleni Loa 6-1, Alfredo Higa 1-(-1), Kuia 9-(-5). Waianae: Nui Stevens 11-27, Jones 2-27, Christopher Santiago-Yoshioka 1-24, Fuller 8-22, Josh Telles 2-6, Keomalu 4-3, David Ferreira 1-2.
PASSING--Aiea: Kuia 24-29-1-284. Waianae: Liko Manuel 8-12-2-83, Keomalu 6-16-1-60.
RECEIVING--Aiea: Liilii 10-162, Lahaina Olsen-Kuroda 5-35, Blakemore 4-50, A. Higa 2-22, Loa 1-8, Ioapo 1-7, Josh Asuncion 1-0. Waianae: Douglas Newman 4-23, Stevens 3-37, Fuller 3-12, Jones 1-25, Charles Humble 1-19, Royce Kainoa 1-17, Manuel 1-10.