At halftime, up in the Aiea press box Friday night, a Na Alii assistant coach mused out loud that his team really, really needed to establish the run if they wanted to come back against Radford.
As foreshadowing went, it was top notch. Aiea did just what he described, riding the legs of 6-foot, 190-pound junior running back Javon Miller to a 34-19 comeback win in the teams’ OIA Division I opener. Aiea, which trailed 19-7 at halftime, scored 27 unanswered points in the second half.
Miller, who took just a couple of handoffs in the first half, finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. It was a breakthrough in helping Na Alii end a six-game losing streak going back to last season; Aiea failed to establish any semblance of the run in the 21-7 season-opening loss at Kaiser the week before.
Aiea tends to look to the pass first, and senior quarterback Kayson Castillo certainly explored the airspace Friday. Na Alii just weren’t connecting. That is, until Castillo heaved it to senior slotback Josh Canosa for a 95-yard score with about a minute left in the first half. Unfortunately for Aiea, that was answered by a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown by Damon Nelson that kept the momentum with Radford at the break.
“We had a good yelling inside there,” Canosa said, nodding at the locker room from the field. “They bring us out, (we) turn around, and get this ‘W.’ ”
Na Alii turned to the ground game almost immediately to start the second half. After a great return by Dylan Soberano advanced the ball to the Radford 32, it was Miller time. In the span of four plays, he carried the ball for 7, 23 and 2 yards — the last punching it in — to get his team within 19-13.
“We want to be as balanced as possible,” Aiea coach Wendell Say said. “When they play us for the pass (and we try to pass) it’s going to be tough. … We gotta be as balanced as we can and keep the guys guessing.”
Late in the game, with all momentum already on Aiea’s side and Na Alii in clock-killing mode, Miller, the only Na Alii back to take a handoff all game, busted through the line and broke away for a 62-yard touchdown.
He had the most rushing yardage for a Na Alii player since Isaiah Ripley gained 128 in a win over Kaiser on Aug. 14, 2015. Those are the two highest Aiea rushing totals since 2010.
“He had some nice runs,” said Canosa, who caught four balls for 165 yards — all but 34 of Castillo’s passing yardage. “Overall, we did good today. (Getting the run going) helped out a lot. It gave us a little bit more energy. Before … we’d get tired, running and running and running (routes). At least now we get to get that blockage, slow it down a little bit.”
Another area of improvement for Aiea was in pass protection; Castillo was only sacked three times after getting dropped more than 10 against Kaiser.
Aiea hosts ‘Iolani on Friday.