The two schools are 2.5 miles apart and show quite similar numbers on the Hawaii high school football Richter scale.
In other words, Aiea and Radford are in the same league — literally and figuratively. Yes, they play against each other in the Oahu Interscholastic Association, but they are also comparable in the size and scope of their football programs.
Yet another way to put it: They belong on the same field and should probably be in the middle tier if the OIA decides it wants to split into three competitive divisions instead of two next year. League football coordinator Harold Tanaka said such a proposal will be seriously discussed in the offseason.
Neither Aiea nor Radford will be competing for a top-tier championship any time soon, but that doesn’t mean they’re not competing. The opposite is quite true. Sure, Radford is struggling, having lost 10 straight on-the-field (not including forfeits) Division I games, but you only have to go back to 2015 in the history books to get a reminder that the Rams plowed through an undefeated season en route to the Division II state championship.
Aiea has not piled up wins like crazy in recent years, but like Radford, Na Alii have a Division II state championship under their belts from 2003.
After making the short trek to the Rams’ John E. Velasco Stadium on Friday night, Aiea took a big 33-point lead before fighting off a sharp Radford comeback for a 46-22 victory.
Aiea showed off a smooth short passing game, with Ty Matsunami at the controls. He went 34-for-45 for 403 yards and five touchdown passes. He also scored a rushing touchdown. Two Na Alii receivers in particular hit the spotlight big-time. Fabian Bautista caught 15 passes for 166 yards with two scores and Zachary Kalahiki-Basque made three TD grabs.
“It was mainly about the line,” said Bautista, a 5-foot-6, 135-pound slotback. “They kept him safe. He’s undersized like me, but we still get it done.”
Matsunami is 5-6 and 150 pounds.
“It’s a great feeling, but we gotta come back stronger next week,” Bautista added. “We’ve got Big Red. I think we can hold ’em.”
Big Red is No. 2 Kahuku (3-0), which Aiea plays at home Friday.
Both Bautista and head coach Wendell Say thought Aiea (1-2, 1-2 OIA Blue) got overconfident and let the Rams (1-2, 1-2) back in it.
“We let our foot off the pedal just a little bit,” Bautista said, before adding, “We tried to sub everybody in, too, to get playing time.”
Say sees improvement in his troops, but also a lot of room for growth.
“I keep telling them that even with a comfortable lead, you cannot relax,” he said. “These guys put up 28 points in the fourth quarter against Castle (in a 33-28 loss two weeks ago), so they’re capable of scoring. Our kids gotta realize there’s no time to relax. They’re kids, and kids are kids.
“We’re slowly getting in the right mode. I truly think we can match up with anybody, but they’ve got to last the whole game, finish the game. It’s gotta come from the kids. We can only teach so much. They’re the ones who gotta perform. Hopefully, we’ll keep increasing that every week and get better every week.”
Aiea, which had 28 players in uniform for last week’s 48-13 loss at No. 7 Campbell, is up to a healthy 40 players now.
“Even (when we had 28 players) our kids are capable. We just gotta finish the job,” Say added.
Radford has 45 varsity players, according to coach Lon Passos, but four did not suit up Friday. That number is up from 39 last week and it is more players than the Rams had last year during an 0-8 season.
Passos is not low on numbers, but he thinks the Rams have been low on game-day readiness.
“My thing is attitude,” he said. “We gotta check our attitude. In the first half, we were sloppy. At halftime, I told them it all starts with attitude and how we’re preparing for the game. It was bad. Then it carried over to the game and it was bad.
“We expect them to hold each other accountable, the whole team. If one guy is playing around, the guy sitting next to him has gotta tell him to stop.”
Passos wouldn’t go as far as saying he was happy with Radford’s comeback bid, but he did notice that the Rams’ effort was way better in the second half.
“Emotions got us in the first half, so we had to settle ’em down in the second half and they came out better ready to play,” he said. “They need to control their emotions and play our game. They need to do their jobs. They did their jobs in the second half, but a loss is a loss.”
Rams running back Iovani Alatini rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries, and receiver Cameron Copeland scored on touchdown passes of 27 and 39 yards from Randy Wright.
Defensively, Menise Pase had a sack and also recorded a safety with a tackle on Aiea running back Isaiah Ripley. Teammate Anthony John Benito picked off two Matsunami passes.
For Aiea on defense, the bullish work of Oliver Tauala and Ferenisi Lualemana was instrumental in holding the Rams in check, especially in the early going. Ripley scored on an interception return, and teammates Baba Capanang and Sheldon Lawelawe each had an interception.
The Rams are gearing up for a trip to Gresham, Ore., to play Centennial in a nonleague game next Friday.