You see it at every level, from the NFL on down.
A team’s quarterback goes down and its fortunes go down with him. The new guy is capable, but understandably just a little bit behind on the reads, and his throws don’t look the same to the receivers.
Not at Aiea.
Jordan Liilii went down with a broken foot early in the second game of the season, forcing veteran coach Wendell Say to turn to linebacker Mana Kaahanui to run the offense.
So dumb down the playbook and try to win with a running game and quick slants, right?
Say’s playbook has worked for years, and he figured it would work now.
The best thing Waianae did in Saturday’s 29-13 win over Aiea was control the ball so that Kaahanui and his playmakers couldn’t hurt it.
“It’s not Mana’s fault,” Say said. “They kept us off the field so our timing was off. As a new quarterback, he needs to get in synch, and Waianae’s game plan was good. We only got on the field five times in the first half, and the last one was to kill the ball.”
Kaahanui instantly showed off an arm, putting the ball up 30 times against Pac-Five after Liilii went down, and Na Alii won the game 33-8. Kaahanui flinged the ball 34 times against Waianae, 26 of them in the second half when Na Alii trailed. He completed only nine of his attempts, but he kept the Seariders honest by delivering the deep ball with accuracy whenever he could find the time.
The senior’s reads need a little bit of work — he tried to make the perfect throw too many times — but Waianae brought a lot of pressure without blitzing and its coverage was nearly flawless. Aiea earned most of its passing yards from athletic plays like Shaenen Hernandez-Fonoti out-leaping a defender for a catch at the 3-yard line, or on a bubble screen on which Hernandez-Fonoti evaded tackle attempt after tackle attempt for a 65-yard touchdown.
The receivers get a lot of credit for the success of the linebacker-turned-quarterback, but the junior has certainly shown something and helped turn around an Aiea program that finished last year mired in widespread player discipline and the losses that come with it.
Liilii is expected to miss a month, but Kaahanui looks like he can keep Aiea’s resurgence going. He will find out on Friday, when Na Alii host a dangerous Campbell defense.
“He played hard and gave us his best,” Say said after Saturday’s game. “He’ll get better. Waianae’s a real good team — to me it is one of the best.”