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Tricky Lahainaluna to test Aiea


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POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's a little Luna in the 2009 version of the so-called wildcat offense proliferating the NFL these days.

Fullback. Wings and a fly receiver in motion before the snap, all the better to have a full head of steam for an end-around sweep with a pulling blocker or two. That's not just faddish NFL stuff. The Lahainaluna Lunas have been running their intricate modified Wing-T system for decades under Bobby Watson.

That's why Aiea has concerns, even with a fast, physical defensive unit, in the Division II opening round of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Football Championships on Friday. Twice, Na Alii had opportunities to knock off the leader of the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference, Moanalua, during the final weeks of the regular season. Twice, Aiea fell short.

And Na Alii won't have it easy with the Lunas on Friday.

“;We have to be ready for anything, all their tricks in the bag,”; Aiea coach Wendell Say said.

On paper: Lahainaluna (6-3) at Aiea (8-3). Winner draws No. 1 seed and two-time defending state champion 'Iolani.

Aiea won the first D-II state title in 2003, but hasn't been back to the final since.

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The Lunas have been a powerhouse in the MIL, regardless of the D-II tag. They had plenty of pukas to fill due to graduation, but still put together a season that includes a win over Maui Interscholastic League D-I champion Baldwin, two victories over King Kekaulike (D-I) and one over Maui (D-I).

Lahainaluna played for the D-II state title in 2007, losing to 'Iolani 28-21.

Aiea had good offensive production through the middle of the season, scoring 25 points or more in five consecutive games. Since then, Na Alii have scored 28 points in three games, and one of those touchdowns came on an interception return.

The skinny: Aiea lost two starters to injuries during practice on Monday, one on each side of the ball.

“;It's been a rough week,”; Say said.

The Lunas have not traveled off island yet this season, but have no problem with big crowds. Fans followed the team from West Maui to War Memorial Stadium in Wailuku in strength all season long.

Youth, however, has served ups and downs for the seasoned Lunas staff.

“;Sometimes we've done good and other times it looks like we're at the beach,”; co-head coach Garrett Tihada said. “;This is a rebuilding year for us, a different Lahainaluna team than everybody's used to and even (different from what) we're used to.”;

Say knows Tihada and longtime co-head coach Watson have fine-tuned the Lunas program well.

“;For them, rebuilding is reloading. The kids coming up know exactly what to do, and they have a solid coaching staff,”; Say noted. “;They're disciplined like 'Iolani and patient like Waianae. They don't get rattled and wait 'til you make a mistake.”;

Lahainaluna hasn't played since a win over Baldwin three weeks ago. Aiea last played two weeks ago in the OIA White final against Moanalua.

The one team in the MIL with a similar offense to Aiea's is Baldwin, and the Bears split their two games with Lahainaluna. Interestingly, Baldwin scored 27 in the first game and just 14 in the second. Paula Toa, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive back, had two of his team's three interceptions. He also caught three passes for 99 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, from T.J. Rickard.

Aiea's Freddy Taliulu has a big gun of an arm and many gamebreaker-type receivers, including lanky Kekoa Thompson. Na Alii's size up front — defensive tackle Lawrence Lagafuaina is 6-1 and 310 pounds — is a big factor.

“;We haven't seen a team like this all year,”; Tihada noted. “;Can we stop their big boys from getting to our quarterbacks and running backs? That's our main concern.”;

X factor: Aiea's secondary got burned late in the first half against Moanalua in the OIA White final, allowing a long bomb for a touchdown. The Lunas love their ground attack, but might test Aiea's coverage early on.