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Prep Football Preview Special
Prep Football Preview
Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveAugust 7, 2022, 12:30am
Sat, Aug 6, 2022 @ Radford [ 6:30 pm ]
ALIAMANU — Geronimo Ulgaran is living up to his coach's expectations.
The senior slotback accounted for three touchdowns, all in the first half, to lead No. 11 Aiea to a 41-17 win over No. 8 Kapaa in a non-league game at Radford's John E. Velasco Stadium Saturday night.
A crowd of about 600 spectators saw Na Alii (1-0) jump out to a 27-0 lead against the Warriors (0-1) by midway through the second quarter in the matchup of state-tournament qualifiers from a year ago.
Kapaa claimed the Division II state crown with an unblemished 8-0 record in 2021 before making their intentions known to move up to D1 back in late June. Aiea, meanwhile, is coming off of a league championship and a semifinal appearance in the D1 state bracket last season.
Longtime Aiea coach Wendell Say was pleased with the result against a quality opponent like the Warriors — who were dealt their first loss since a 21-10 defeat at the hands of Lahainaluna in the 2019 D2 state final — but also pointed out his team's shortcomings in the season opener.
"I mean, it's good to win, but we still got a lot of work," said Say, who begins his 30th season at Aiea this fall.
"I mean, we're still making mistakes, we gotta cut out dumb penalties and sometimes it's questionable, but even if it's questionable you cannot have ‘em because in the big games it's gonna hurt you," he added.
Indeed, Na Alii were flagged 15 times for 169 yards, including six penalties of 15-or-more yards, but they were able to overcome the flurry of infractions with 430 yards of total offense, including 266 rushing yards on only 22 carries — better than 12 yards per rush.
Running back Kaimana Lale-Saole churned out 149 yards on just 12 attempts. He closed out the scoring with his 71-yard touchdown run in the game's final minutes.
"That's good because we want to balance the offense," Say noted. "We want to make sure that we balance it, so that's fine."
Early on, however, it was the Ulgaran show. The 5-foot-6, 160-pound speedster capped Aiea's first two possessions with touchdown receptions of 6 and 27 yards from quarterback Noah Spencer. His first came three plays after a Kapaa miscue on special teams after a long snap sailed over the head of punter Christopher Rapozo and resulted in a loss of 24 yards and 1st and 10 for Na Alii at their opponent's 13-yard line.
"That was much needed," said Ulgaran, who made a leaping catch in the back left corner of the end zone. "I feel like that was a big turning point in the game, which helped us and it set us up for the rest of the night."
After Kapaa went three-and-out and punted away on its next drive, Aiea picked up an extra 15 yards due to a facemask penalty on the punt return and began its ensuing possession at the Warriors' 41-yard line. Four plays later, Spencer found Ulgaran, who was left wide open in the end zone, for their second scoring strike.
"I saw the safety — it was cover-1, but they were in a cover-3 look — so all I knew was for that corner route, I had to bring it higher so he doesn't see me," Ulgaran said.
The Warriors crossed midfield for the first time with their third drive and appeared to have scored on a 46-yard touchdown run by Solomone Malafu on a fourth-and-6, but it was negated by a holding penalty. Instead, they were forced to punt and that's when Ulgaran struck once more. He fielded the Rapozo punt at his own 26-yard line, then utilized a wall of blockers before he raced down the left sideline for the 64-yard TD return on the final play of the first quarter.
"I just saw all my blockers and I saw two guys coming at me, so I had to cut back inside and then I hit the outside and just turned the boosters on," Ulgaran explained.
Say, for one, isn't all that surprised by the kind of night had by Ulgaran, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season.
"That's what we expect of him because we expect him to have a good year, stay healthy and that's going to be the key: keeping him healthy, along with a lot of other kids because we don't have big numbers, so staying healthy is gonna be the key," Say said.
Kapaa coach Mike Tresler pointed to the two big plays on special teams that swung the game in the favor of Aiea.
"Well, we definitely knew that we were challenged and we didn't do very well tonight at all, especially on special teams and defensively, that surprised me a little bit, but that's on coaches, we didn't prepare them well, so I'll take full responsibility for that," Tresler said.
He went on, "We gotta do a better job of preparing our guys because it was ugly; I haven't experienced that type of football game in a while, so yeah, we gotta go back to the drawing board and focus on our fundamentals and basics and we're gonna have a huge week of work or it's gonna be ugly again next week so particularly special teams — I mean, take back two scores on that and then it's a one-score game so that's huge and we take a lot of pride in that and I'm directly responsible for that so I gotta do a better job of getting them prepared on special teams, for sure."
The Warriors got on the board with 28.7 seconds left in the first half on Kahiapo Kuhaulua-Leong's 3-yard TD run off right tackle. That capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive and following the extra point by Rapozo, cut the Aiea lead to 27-7.
Kapaa orchestrated another long drive in the third quarter, when it marched 93 yards in 14 plays and took more than six minutes off of the clock, capped by Kapono Na-O's 21-yard touchdown pass to Canaan Coleman to pull their team to within 27-14 after three quarters. However, Aiea answered with a 10-yard TD pass from Spencer to Jayden Chanel a few minutes into the final stanza to stretch it back to a 34-14 cushion.
Pacheco converted a 24-yard field goal with 2:41 remaining to make it 34-17, before Lale-Saole put the finishing touches on the win for Aiea with his long TD run about a minute later.
Tresler was thoroughly impressed with Na Alii, who ran for half of their 20 total first downs. Only one of their 22 rushing attempts went for negative yardage.
"I thought they were a lot better in their run game than I kind of expected — that surprised me a little and then we were terrible — but all the credit to them, they're a really good football team. They got talent and they're well-coached and we knew that coming in, but wow, I'm really impressed with them," Tresler expressed.
Ezekiel Olie, the ScoringLive Preseason D1 Offensive Player of the Year, did not start at quarterback for Aiea. Instead he came off the bench behind Spencer and made his first appearance at the 8:25 mark of the second quarter.
Say said that Olie missed significant time recently due to health and safety protocols.
"He was out for a week so we just wanted to make sure he's good," Say said. "He's fine, but we should have given him a break but we wanted to see him because he missed the scrimmages last week."
Olie finished 8-of-13 passing for 108 yards with an interception. He threw a 5-yard TD pass to Rico Figueroa that gave his team a 27-0 lead with 5:58 left in the first half.
Spencer was a perfect 5 for 5 through the air for 56 yards and three TDs.
Ulgaran said it was of little consequence whether it was Olie or Spencer at quarterback for the team's slew of veteran pass catchers.
"Both quarterbacks, we worked with them all summer, so it was really just ‘buckle down and just catch the ball,' " he said. "I feel like we performed good. We practiced all week and we had good scrimmages so I feel like my team was ready to work in this (non-league) game."
Say was also happy with his defense's ability to limit Kapaa's vaunted rushing attack to 87 yards despite 50 total carries — a minuscule average of 1.7 yards per rush.
"This is a good team," Say said of the Warriors, who churned out 477 rushing yards against Kamehameha-Maui in the D2 state final last December.
"They run the ball well and it was a good challenge for us. I mean, I don't think we face that many teams that run the ball a lot, so it's a good challenge," he added.
As for the Warriors, it's back to the drawing board with perennial powerhouse and Open Division-foe Saint Louis coming to the Garden Island for another big test next Saturday.
"We're not used to losing and so this is something different for us, but it's good. We gotta learn from it and again, it's never the players' fault, it's coaches," said Tresler, whose team finished with 191 yards of total offense and was 4 of 16 on third downs and 1 of 6 on fourth downs.
Tresler added, "When things don't go well like this, it's obviously coaches. We'll get that corrected next week and we gotta be a lot better next week, for sure."
Kapaa and Saint Louis will play Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex.
Aiea has a bye next before it visits No. 10 Kapolei on Aug. 19.
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