High School Beat
Future for Liilii may be as a quarterback, not wide receiver
IN THE FINAL minutes of Aiea's 35-14 loss to Punahou on Saturday, Lofa Liilii took on yet another task.
The junior had already racked up impressive all-purpose statistics despite the eventual loss. But when quarterback Kali Kuia went down with a shoulder injury, it was Liilii's time to take snaps.
It certainly wasn't by choice. Aiea's backup signal-caller was unavailable due to academic probation. Another backup, sophomore Keenan Naole, took a few snaps in the second half. But Liilii, the dynamic receiver, was inserted at quarterback for Aiea's final drive.
What he demonstrated in just a handful of plays is enough to make opposing defensive coordinators in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West gasp.
On his first play, fourth and 2 from the Aiea 15-yard line, he turned a quarterback draw into a 24-yard gain. A few plays later, on fourth and 6, Liilii found James Buchanan for a 12-yard gain to the Punahou 45.
Then Liilii dropped back and heaved a bullet that was as tight a spiral as any at Aloha Stadium that night. Buchanan, a junior-varsity call-up, made a spectacular diving catch at the 6-yard line.
Pretty good stuff for a player who hadn't practiced the position until the day before the game.
A Punahou sack and an incompletion on the game's final play meant Liilii's stint at quarterback did nothing to change the final score. However, Aiea offensive coordinator Amosa Amosa would not rule out the possibility of Liilii moving to quarterback next season.
Josh Blakemore and Liilii gave Aiea one of the top wide receiver combos in the state this season. With the ascension of Buchanan -- one of the top receivers in last year's top summer pass league -- in the late season, Aiea will have three potentially outstanding targets.
If Liilii, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Punahou, moves to quarterback, the left-handed slinger could immediately become one of the most feared playmakers in the league.
Should he make the move, Liilii already has lofty ideals of what good quarterbacking is about. He saw it in Kuia, and he saw it in Punahou's Brett Kan. "Punahou is awesome. They're very much better than I expected. Their quarterback does his reads," Liilii said.
For the record, Liilii ran six times for 32 yards, completed three of his four pass attempts for 56 yards, caught seven passes for 89 yards, and returned two punts for 9 yards and two kickoffs for 145 yards.
It still wasn't enough to overcome five turnovers by his team. "What they showed us is what we were expecting," Amosa said. "We tried to go to our screens. They're a big part of the package."
Punahou's speed and teamwork defensively continue to make a mark on the state's top teams.
Aiea coach Wendell Say is hoping the experience of reaching the semifinals isn't lost on his younger players. "We can hold our heads high. We played hard," the longtime mentor and counselor said. "But if we want to make a longer run, we have to prepare, starting now, in the weight room and in the library."
Twelve Na Alii didn't suit up for the Punahou game, including three key contributors. Also, senior linebacker Kapena Fonseca was out with a knee injury.
A solid foundation: He was there when the program was born and raised it up right.
Sam Papali'i was the right person for the job when Kealakehe's new football program moved up to varsity in 2000. After five years, there is talk that the veteran coach has decided to return to the college ranks.
Athletic director Mike Hernandez did not return calls from the Star-Bulletin yesterday.
Papali'i's son, Max, graduates this year, which makes the timing right for the coach. Papali'i is a stern taskmaster whose tough outer core belied a compassion for kids. Those qualities made him the perfect coach for the rising Kealakehe program, which qualified for the Division I state tournament this season.
The Waveriders lost a close one, 21-14, to Waianae over the weekend in the opening round.
Jumping in: Punahou junior wide receiver Miah Ostrowski is having an outstanding season on the gridiron. Meanwhile, the Punahou basketball team is well into its preseason routine without Ostrowski, their all-state guard.
"I took a shot in the gym yesterday. It was an air ball," Ostrowski admitted. He more than made up for it with his performance against Aiea, with eight receptions for 100 yards, including two touchdowns.
Hurricane heading South: Kapolei swimmer Meredith Egloria has signed a letter of intent to attend Northern Arizona University.
Egloria is a six-time state champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle. She will join Hawaii Swim Club teammates Cassie Lyons and Tamarah Binek at NAU.
To nominate ...
To nominate an athlete of the week, contact the Star-Bulletin Sports Department by 11 p.m. Sunday: