After seeing their homecoming ruined by a 40-21 loss at the hands of Leilehua, it would seem easy for the Aiea football team to sulk, or get down on themselves.
Instead, Na Alii finds themselves trying to embrace the positive outcomes and potential that was shown in the loss.
“Leilehua almost beat Moanalua last week, and the week before, we played Moanalua pretty tough,” head coach Wendell Say said.
Even with the perennial powerhouses of OIA football like Kahuku and Kapolei no longer in Aiea’s Division I categorization, Na Alii still often find themselves undersized and undermanned against their D-I opponents.
On their roster, Aiea lists just 28 players total. Their two biggest players, linemen Jonathan Tuiafitu and Molia Wongsee are both just 6 feet and weigh about 280 pounds. Nearly every other team in Division I has at least five players over 6-1, and all but two have at least three weighing over 300 pounds (‘Iolani and Nanakuli).
“We don’t have numbers,” Say said. “I think we only suited up 26 tonight? Our kids have to trust each other and play hard. We trust that our kids know that, and are going to come out here and give it our all.”
Still, despite the size deficit against Leilehua, Aiea was able to put up numbers, and keep up with the bigger, faster Mules. Quarterback Kayson Castillo threw for 380 yards, the fifth-highest total in Aiea history, and two receivers had double-digit receptions and over 100 yards. Zacharia Kalahiki-Basque led the team with 12 catches and 131 yards and Fabian Bautista added 10 for 101. A third receiver, Babu Capanang, had five for 85 yards.
Kalahiki-Basque has caught a TD pass in all six games this season.
“Everyone on this team is talented,” Say said. “We tell them to always be ready, because we will use everyone, everywhere. And tonight, we told them to keep fighting.
“I know it’s hard for these kids. Especially tonight, when they had success and put up those numbers. But Kayson is still shaking off the rust. He missed three games, and it’s only his second game back.”
Looking ahead to the rest of Aiea’s season, Say is hopeful that his scrappy team can again find the victory they so desire. Remaining on Aiea’s schedule are games against Castle, Kailua, and ILH-leading ‘Iolani.
“We tell the kids that they have to believe,” Say said. “They have to believe they’re good enough, because in this league, anyone can beat anyone.”