Without intending to do so, Aiea football head coach Wendell Say summed up what is wrong with Hawaii high school football’s competitive balance.
It was after Na Alii’s 50-7 loss at Kahuku on Friday night, when he said, “Playing a strong team like this doesn’t define us. What defines us is how we played, and we didn’t quit.”
Sure enough, Aiea played well … or at least as well as any team can possibly play in a 43-point loss. Na Alii didn’t make many mistakes. They were just beaten by a superior team. People knew that coming in and people knew it going home. Say even added that the Red Raiders were “physically superior.”
When he made the “doesn’t define us” comment, he wasn’t trying to be the poster boy for a three-tier system that many fans overwhelmingly favor according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser non-scientific poll. As a matter of fact, we don’t even know where Say stands on the issue.
What we do know is Say was the beneficiary the last time a long overdue competitive-balance proposal was ushered in. In 2003, the first year of Division II, Aiea defeated Damien 9-6 in the first D-II state championship game. OK, so now, here we have Aiea up in D-I and being fairly competitive until they play the iron of the division — the Kahukus, the Mililanis, the Farringtons.
The press (Star-Advertiser, Hawaii Prep World and some TV and radio outlets) will likely continue to harp on this issue until it’s taken seriously by the powers that be. If it’s not workable and an agreement can’t be forged, tell us why. Have open discussion.
Open discussion is a possibility in the near future. The Hawaii High School Athletic Association’s state football committee may do just that, but it’s not certain that they will. The Oahu Interscholastic Association did not vote on a three-tier proposal that would have given them $3 million over three years. The Interscholastic League of Honolulu voted overwhelmingly in favor of it in the spring.
A year ago, Kahuku beat Campbell 50-0 in its home opener. As it stands right now, Campbell and Aiea (1-1, 1-1 OIA Blue) are simply on a lower tier right now. There’s nothing wrong with that. ‘Iolani, a D-II powerhouse for so long, got beaten up in D-I last year. Those are the types of teams that should fight in the second tier. Let the big boys such as Punahou, Saint Louis, Kamehameha, Kahuku, Mililani and Farrington go for the biggest glory, and add in any other program that wants that type of competition. Then the real small schools can play in the third class with most of Hawaii’s schools in the middle.
Other than the scoreboard, it was a defensive battle Friday night. Aiea gave up just 225 scrimmage yards while gaining only 81. The Red Raiders (2-0, 2-0 OIA Blue) took full advantage of field position, starting all eight of their possessions in Na Alii territory.
Aiea starting quarterback Zelius Maae-Liupaono played in the first half and went 7-for-20 and was more effective than Kobe Kato, last year’s starter, who went just 1-for-8. Both QBs threw one interception.
“It’s (the starting job) is still up in the air right now,” Say said. “There’s still a question mark, but we’ll be fine.”
Kato was a late-comer to the football team due to his involvement in summer baseball.
Gage Asing, a receiver/defensive back, threw Aiea’s lone touchdown pass, a 35-yard flea flicker to Ty Matsunami. Asing also contributed with a tackle for loss on defense. Alan Keohokapu and Tome made some other tough defensive plays as well.
TeeJay Tome came up with a sack of Kahuku backup quarterback Cameron Renaud, who suffered a concussion on the play and is apparently OK. He went down and stayed down until an ambulance took him to Pali Momi Medical Center. Kahuku coaches believe Renaud will be fine, but it was a scary few minutes when he was motionless and being attended to by medical personnel.
MJ Soyon made the initial stop of Renaud, but Renaud stayed up and tried to get away before Panuelo came along. It appeared Renaud’s head snapped back and then hit the ground.
“That can happen when you turn into a defensive guy that is coming at you 100 miles an hour,” Kahuku head coach Vavae Tata said.
Added Aiea’s Say, “I hate to see kids get hurt. It’s a tough part of the game. When you see it, you always wish it din’t happen.”
Panuelo was asked what he thought.
“I hope he’s all right and hope he is doing good,” he said. “It’s the sport we play; we gotta do what we gotta do. I wish the best for him. The coaches came by and told us he’s all right, so …”
Renaud finished 3-for-7 for 53 yards, but two of his passes were dropped.
“(Starting quarterback) Sol-Jay (Maiava) had a little bit of a slow start,” Red Raiders offensive coordinator John Hao said. “Cameron looked good. I gave him a shot. In practice, he’s been completing the ball and his timing was coming out. This was a good confidence booster, and he ended up doing his part until the very last play. He’s telling me on the sidelines,’Coach, let’s throw the ball. I want to throw.’ You know he’s a senior. I’ll give him an opportunity.”
Elvis Vakapuni played in his first game for the Red Raiders, rushing four times for 38 yards and catching four passes for 47 yards.
The transfer from Utah was elated to finally hit the field for a real game. He called Steven Lombard, his cousin who scored three rushing TDs, “a beast.”
Last fall, Vakapuni played for Bingham (Utah). He was supposed to return to Utah after his junior year, but the family situation called for him to remain in Hawaii.
“It’s kinda good playing with family (Lombard) because coming from Utah, I don’t really have that much family here to play with,” Vakapuni said.
As for the “Elvis” name, he was not named after Presley. He was named after his late uncle who was named after Presley. His uncle’s mom was pregnant with his uncle when the movie “Blue Hawaii” came out.
Cornerback/place-kicker Stokes Nihipali-Botelho, who kicked five extra points and a 29-yard field goal, intercepted a Maaae-Liupaono pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Nihipali-Botelho’s cornerback mate, Kekaula Kaniho, returned a kickoff 65 yards to the house. Kaniho’s brother, Kaonohi Kaniho, got into the act with an interception of Kato in the second half.
Linebacker Miki Ah-You had a stellar game for the Red Raiders and came up with a sack of Aiea punter Kame Kim Choy-Keb Ah Lo and made another tackle for loss. Defensive linemen Sedric Iafeta and Aliki Vimahi each went up high to bat down a Na Alii pass, and linebckers Toalei Lefau and Tema Lindsay were right in the thick of things defensively and both came up with a tackle for loss.
Tata and the top-ranked Red Raiders play host to No. 4 Waianae on Friday in what could be a smashmouth extravaganza.
“We have another opportunity next week,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. As long as we’re on the ascent each week, that’s all we’re looking for.”
Aiea and Campbell (those two teams mentioned above who could be fighting for a second-tier championship if Hawaii moves to three tiers) play next Friday in a battle of 1-1 teams.