No. 1 Kahuku can't afford to lose control against Aiea
The state's best team needs to hold on to the football to survive against the surprising Na Alii
THE WILL BE no overlooking Na Alii of Aiea, not this week.
Being ranked No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 the past four weeks has done nothing to change Kahuku's focus. Memories don't fade so quickly even for the most dominant team in the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
When Kahuku faces Aiea for the league championship tomorrow at Aloha Stadium, control will be an issue, as in ball control.
A year ago, Aiea stymied Kahuku's normally prolific ground attack. Kahuku went back to the air, the way it did in the heyday of Inoke Funaki. Bronson Ponciano-Ahue hooked up with speedy Spencer Hafoka four times for touchdowns. A 12-0 halftime score turned into a 32-8 rout for Kahuku in the OIA quarterfinals.
This year, there is no Hafoka, and Kahuku's passing offense has been largely overshadowed by the best 1-2 running back combo in the state: Malosi Te'o and Kamuela Alisa.
But the Red Raiders know what Aiea presents. And they know that Aiea is the same team that ousted Castle from the playoffs -- the same Castle team that gave Kahuku its only loss this season.
Kahuku scored six points against Castle. Aiea rang up 52.
"This team beat the team that we lost to. It all adds up to trying to make it as big a game as it can be for the boys. The big deal is they're smart and have their own judgment, and the higher the mountain or the challenge, the more they will put out," Kahuku coach Siuaki Livai said yesterday.
In his last two games, Te'o has combined his size and speed for good use. He has rushed for 354 yards while Alisa has added 145.
Alisa, who started most of the season, now plays in the backfield next to Te'o and has accepted his new role.
"Kamuela is a hard worker who has really been one of our most valuable guys on the team," Livai said. "What he brings to us is amazing. He'd rather be a tailback, but unfortunately, he's also the best fullback. That's why Malosi has a lot of yardage, because of the sacrifice that Kamuela does for the team."
Aiea's defense has seen its share of strong offensive units, but Kahuku is at a different level. Na Alii hope to use their offense as a line of defense.
"Kahuku is a smashmouth team. We've gotta be able to give our defense a rest. We can't go three and out (on offense). Our defense has to be able to stop their running game," Aiea coach Wendell Say said.
Kali Kuia may be the hottest quarterback in the state. He returned from an injury-shortened junior season to lead Aiea's now-explosive run-and-shoot offense.
"We have to be able to move the ball, give Kali some time to throw the ball. Last year, their front seven gave us a hard time," Say noted. "We don't have a running back like Donny Mapusaga. We gotta rely on our backs helping out in pass protection."
Livai doesn't want to give Kuia any time to relax. "Kali is like Bryce (Kalauokaaea) from Castle a little bit. He runs really well, besides throwing the ball. It's going to really be a challenge. It comes down to whether we can put pressure on them and if they have time to throw. If they get time to throw, it makes it very difficult for us," Livai said.
Aiea will face a quick, physically imposing defensive unit that shut out most of its foes this year.
"Kahuku's two (defensive) ends, (B.J.) Beatty and (Micah) Wily, are tough. I always tell our guys, that's like having two Justin Hunts," Say said, referring to his own elite D-end. "It's a tough task for our linemen, but I'm sure they can do it. They've improved a lot."
Two seasons ago, Aiea won the Division II state tournament. Reaching the OIA finals as a D-I program is quite a step up. So was the 52-31 win over Castle during the playoffs.
Lofa Liilii, a junior, and wide receivers Josh Blakemore and Lahaina Olsen-Kuroda have been Kuia's favorite targets. Still, much of the weight is on Aiea's defense.
"We need to get some three and out situations. No matter how good your defense is, if they're on the field too much, they'll get tired," Say said.
Aiea's defense is anchored by Hunt, linebacker Kapena Fonseca, tackle Isaac Tuilaepa, defensive back Stili Malepeai and more. "Quinton (Petersen) got back from his injury. Last week was his first start since Leilehua, so he was hungry," Say said.
Kahuku's defense experimented with Beatty at middle linebacker during the loss to Castle.
"They were stunting a lot in the middle against Castle, and Castle threw a lot of screens. Since then, they've moved him back to end," Say noted.