HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aiea defensive coordinator Mika Li'ili'i went over game tapes with the defensive unit in preparation for Saturday's state tournament game against Punahou.
Bubbling to the top
Two years removed from its Division II state title, Aiea is poised to attack the D-I bracket
ONCE A BUBBLE team in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West, Aiea didn't just get hot by regular-season's end. With senior quarterback Kali Kuia at the controls, Na Alii surpassed everyone but the state's No. 1 team.
A 26-16 loss to Goliath, a.k.a. Kahuku, last week, has done little to derail the Little Green Train that Could.
In fact, there are two schools of thought regarding Aiea's loss in the OIA final.
One, that Kahuku's dominance in the first three quarters -- and a 26-0 lead -- was the reality of a football behemoth manhandling a team that was in Division II just two seasons ago.
The other notion is what Aiea embraces.
Once everyone was on track, Aiea's offense zoomed into warp speed, carving up a Red Raider defense that had no answers.
And Na Alii have more goodies in store, not just for Kahuku, but for any team that stands in their way.
They just won't say it out loud, of course. Inside voices stay muted.
PUNAHOU, THE Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion, awaits an opening-round clash in the Division I state tournament on Saturday.
"They kind of remind us of Kamehameha or Kahuku, with that three-stack defense with three down linemen with a lot of blitzing by the linebackers," Kuia said.
"The Kahuku game helped us to see another way to counter what happens."
Well before reaching the title game, the season had little momentum for Aiea. It was a close loss to Waianae during the regular season that was the turning point.
"Our coaches felt motivated that we should be hanging with these guys and do better. For some reason, we were making a lot of mistakes, miscommunication," Kuia recalled. "As a team, we came together. We got back on our feet and started playing harder."
For the uninitiated, facing Aiea's empty-backfield sets can be a defensive coordinator's nightmare -- or dream. Sack City or Pinball Scoreboard, it can go either way. Second in the Red West in total offense (309 yards per game) and passing (232), Aiea foiled conventional wisdom by winning in the playoffs without a balanced offense.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Amosa Amosa learned all he could about the run-and-shoot from Dan Morrison. They coached together at Iolani, then Punahou, before Morrison joined June Jones' staff at UH.
Aiea's five-receiver formation wasn't by choice, really. An injury to running back Landon Dela Cruz gave Amosa and the offense no other options. Even Jones, the chief of surgery in the run-and-shoot clinic, rarely uses a five-receiver set.
Dela Cruz returned recently, but Aiea still uses five receivers.
"We used it in the ILH pass league, so they're used to it," head coach Wendell Say said. "We just have to get our blocking up to par."
Oh, there have been lumps for all those big plays. Kahuku sacked Kuia eight times. Once the protection problem was solved, however, that's when Aiea rained two touchdowns on the Red Raiders.
"If you told me we'd give up all those sacks, I'd think we'd lose 62-6 or something like that," Amosa said. "We woke up a little too late, but it's correctable."
Aiea receivers Lofa Liilii, Josh Blakemore and Lahaina Olsen-Kuroda ranked first, fourth and sixth, respectively, in Red West receiving yardage.
"LOFA IS SMART. That's what makes him more dangerous. With the verticals, we throw a choice route at him. He fakes in on one side and goes back out. He uses his speed off the line," Kuia said of the junior. "Blakemore and Lahaina, even (Josh) Asuncion. He's a huge factor. He can break some tackles on short passes like outs and hitches. I've seen (Blakemore's) work ethic develop tremendously, and that's helped him out this season. He's more serious about his game."
Kuia is a gem in the rough, and even he confessed that there's still much to learn.
"I needed to trust my receivers and air it out for them. The two touchdowns was me airing it out for Lofa and Blakemore to get it," he said.
Defensively, Aiea has size, but not a whole lot of depth.
Until the Kahuku game, few teams could match Aiea's physical, quick play. Defensive end Justin Hunt (6-1, 220) and offensive lineman Chris Anakalea (6-1, 290) lead their comrades in the trenches, while defensive back Stili Malepeai (5-11, 210) is a safety with a linebacker's strength.
Those three, along with Kuia and Olsen-Kuroda, are team co-captains.
The difference between the Aiea team that won the state D-II title two years ago and the one that is a dark horse contender in the D-I bracket is above the shoulders.
"IT'S MORE A MENTAL game. In D-I, it's a lot of mental games and discipline that you have to have to compete. Kahuku is always gonna be there physically. The only way people can deal with them and get past that is to win the mental game. That's the key to competing at the D-I level," Kuia said.
"It's important to be able to master your own game plan," he added. "But the other thing that matters is being able to cope with the pressure that may come."
Mondays are "walk-and-talk" days at Aiea's field. Video and a walk-through. It's a chance to learn from losses and victories alike, no shells whatsoever.
It is also a chance for the team to forge the most important tool to success.
"We figured out, if they have bonding and work well together, that's what we need to win games," said Say, now in his 14th year as head coach.
"In that sense, I really don't think we've reached our peak yet."
ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
Malosi Te'o, Kahuku football:
Rushed for 248 yards, including touchdowns of 73, 57 and 72 yards, on just 15 carries as the Red Raiders defeated Aiea for the Oahu Interscholastic Association title.
Lauren Ho, Hawaii Baptist cross country:
Won her second state title in a row with a time of 18 minutes, 11 seconds on the course at Kauai Community College.
Jacob Davis, Maui:
Earned the boys state title with a series of 1,792 pins at Fort Shafter.
Cherish Saunders, Kapolei: Won the girls state championship with a series of 1,753 pins.
Jeremy Kamaka'ala, Kamehameha:
Captured the boys state championship with a time of 15:22 at the Kauai Community College course.
Alex Daniels, Radford:
Rushed for 151 yards on 28 attempts to lead the rams over Moanalua for the OIA D-II title.
Ryan Burciaga, Radford: Rushed for 54 yards and passed for 86 in the victory over Moanalua.
Travis Daniels, Radford: Recovered two fumbles in the Rams' win over Moanalua.
Curtis Jones, Waianae: Rushed for 86 yards on 21 attempts as the Seariders defeated Farrington for a state-tourney berth.
Camilla Ah-Hoy, Kahuku:
Had 10 kills against Iolani.
Okesene "Junior" Ale, Kahuku: Rejoined the team after a season-long hiatus and posted 12 kills against Radford.
Alzie Auelua, Radford: Had 16 kills against Sacred Hearts and 11 kills and seven blocks in the Division II state title match against St. Francis.
Charles Bell, Kahuku: Had 16 kills against Radford and 10 against Punahou
Deven Bukoski, Kamehameha: Had a team-high six kills in the state title win over Iolani and was named to all-tourney team.
Meghan Burton, Iolani: Had nine kills and three roofs against Kamehameha-Maui.
Kawena Cubi-Otineru, St. Francis: Had 12 kills against Kaiser, 12 against Kaimuki and 16 in the Division II state title win over Radford.
Elias David, Kalaheo: Had 16 kills against Pearl City.
Kealii Frank, Punahou: Had nine kills and five blocks in the state title win vs. Iolani.
Poerava Gantt, Kapaa: Had 18 kills against Kaimuki.
Mikhail Graig, Ka'u: Had 16 kills and five blocks against Honkoaa.
Reese Haine, Mid-Pacific: Had 10 kills against Waipahu and 16 against Seabury Hall.
Kanani Herring, Kamehameha: Had a team-high six kills in the state title win over Iolani and was named to all-tourney team.
Tasha Johnson, Aiea: Had 15 digs against Roosevelt.
Kaleinani Kabalis, Moanalua: Had 25 kills vs. Maui and 15 vs. Kamehameha. Was named to the all-tourney team.
Leilani Keanini, Iolani: Had 11 kills vs. KS-Maui.
Lelani Kleman-Maeva, Aiea: Had 24 kills against Roosevelt.
Riley McKibbin, Punahou: Made 36 assists vs. Iolani.
Spencer McLachlin, Punahou: Had 14 kills in a state title win over Iolani.
Lauren Minkel, Iolani: Had nine kills in the state title match against Kamehameha.
Lyndon Pascual, Kapaa: Had 12 kills in the Division II state title win over Mid-Pacific.
Bailey Roberts, Seabury Hall: Had 12 kills against Sacred Hearts.
Kawika Shoji, Iolani: Had 13 kills against Waipahu.
Pili Taitin, Aiea: Had 21 kills against Hawaii Baptist.