Sunday, October 23, 2022 | By: Wes Nakama
Fresh off an impressive report card, ‘Aiea sailed through another big test Saturday night by trouncing Kailua, 41-0, in O’ahu Interscholastic Association Division I football semifinal action at Radford’s John Velasco Stadium.
The victory improved Na Ali’i to 8-2 and advanced them to Saturday’s title game against No. 10-ranked Waipahu (8-1) at Mililani’s John Kauinana Stadium. It also clinched a second straight state tournament berth for ‘Aiea, which lost to eventual champion ‘Iolani in last year’s semifinals.
“I’m excited, I’m happy for the kids, we needed to win to get into the state tournament and OIA championship (game),” said ‘Aiea coach Wendell Say. “This (win) helped us out a lot.”
Kailua, which ends its season at 4-4-1, helped a lot, too, by turning the ball over five times — three interceptions and two fumbles. That turnover total does not include a badly shanked eight-yard punt, which set up a quick Na Ali’i touchdown that pushed the lead to 21-0 less than four minutes into the first quarter. ‘Aiea’s first two touchdowns came within 76 seconds of each other early in the first quarter, after Na Ali’i recovered a muffed kickoff reception at the Surfriders’ 35-yard line.
“When you turn the ball over five times, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Kailua coach Joe Wong said. “You can’t do that. When you do that, (a big early deficit) is the kind of things that happen. And you can’t give a team like that five turnovers. Five turnovers in any football world is supposed to turn over into 3 or 6 (points), which turns into 35. So before you know it, we were behind the 8-ball.”
Boosted by Geronimo Ulgaran’s 38-yard punt return, ‘Aiea scored on its first drive five plays later on Kaimana Lale-Saole’s 5-yard touchdown run and Bryson Boyea Quiton’s extra point. After the fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff, Na Ali’i needed only three plays to score, on Rico Figueroa’s 10-yard TD reception from Ezekiel Olie. Boyea Quiton’s PAT made it 14-0 with 7:13 remaining in the first quarter.
In the meantime, the Surfriders’ offense sputtered in trying to move the chains and find any kind of rhythm. Quarterback Romeo Ortiz, who recently took over for injured starter Maa Fonoti, showed flashes of running ability and attempted to execute the option several times. But with ‘Aiea’s front seven stuffing the run between tackles, and also getting enough penetration on the outside to disrupt pitch relationship, the option attack often went nowhere.
“As a group, we were able to come forward and keep them contained and keep them from running in too many places,” said Na Ali’i defensive tackle Sila Unutoa. “And also the linebackers came through, too. We locked them down, and kept their game plan shut down. Everybody was working in sync. It was such a great game today.”
After Olie scored on a nifty 10-yard quarterback keeper to help push the lead to 21-0, Kailua finally put together a nice drive, marching 42 yards in 12 plays to the ‘Aiea 33. But then Unutoa forced a fumble, and defensive back Elijah Naho’opi’i-Makakona recovered.
“Like anything else, it’s all about who makes the most mistakes, and we made the most mistakes tonight,” Wong said. “We had our opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on those.”
After Naho’opi’i-Makakona intercepted a pass at midfield — his second pick of the evening — Na Ali’i cashed in on a 6-yard TD ramble by freshman Ezra Naho’opi’i-Makakona, a 5-foot-10, 240-pound lineman who took a direct snap out of a power run formation that included other lineman-types in the backfield. Boyea Quiton’s point-after was true and made it 28-0 exactly four minutes into the third quarter.
After another short (19 yards) punt gave ‘Aiea possession at the Surfriders’ 49, Olie scored six plays later on a 7-yard scramble to the end zone, and Boyea Quiton’s extra point triggered the running clock the rest of the way.
Say said the victory capped an exciting week in which the team posted a collective 3.2 grade point average during a recent check.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Say said. “Last year’s team was 3.1, and the highest prior to that was like 15 years ago at 2.9. I’m proud of these kids, and there’s a correlation between (football) success and academics. Doing well in the classroom correlates to success on the field. It helps because they are learning what we teach them.”
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