Mililani’s reign as Division I football state champion is over.
What was supposed to be a shootout at Aloha Stadium against the top-ranked Saint Louis Crusaders ended up being a one-sided affair.
Sure, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Saint Louis’ offense had its way, but don’t discount the contribution by the defense in the Crusaders’ 56-30 victory in the Division I semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships. On the defensive side of the ball, the Crusaders (9-1) were on fire.
The third-ranked Trojans (10-3) took a 14-7 lead by scoring on two of their first three possessions on the wizardry of quarterback McKenzie Milton and running back Vavae Malepeai that Hawaii high school football fans have become accustomed to for three years. But the tides turned for good soon after that.
All told in the first half, Saint Louis got two interceptions each from Ronson Timbreza and Jalen Saole and one fumble recovery each by Noa Purcell and Hunter Hoohuli. Seven of nine Mililani first-half possessions ended in Saint Louis stops. Pretty incredible, when you think about all the pregame talk about the team that can make a few stops here and there would likely prevail in the offensive showdown.
To add more misery to the Trojans, linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia returned a fumble for a touchdown early in the second half. Chance Beyer also recovered a fumble later in the game to make it eight turnovers.
Defensive end Tanielu Evaimalu, one of the defensive leaders for Saint Louis, said, “We sharpen each other up in practice against each other. We pick each other up and keep everyone from getting down. We knew when we came out here it was our game to win — and we took it. It feels great. Thirty weeks ago, we came with a dream to win a state championship and now we’re one game away from it.”
Added offensive lineman Nate Herbig, who walked by while Evaimalu was being interviewed in the North end zone tunnel: “He’s the heart of our defense. He is a great baller.”
Evaimalu had one forced fumble, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup in the contest. Dylan Toilolo, a defensive back, was in on 11 tackles, including a sack, and he was credited with two forced fumbles.
So now, it’s back to the old days next week, when the Crusaders play Kahuku (12-0) for the championship. Five times, the two teams have met for the state title (since the inaugural state tournament in 1999), with the Red Raiders winning in 2000, ’01, ’03 and ’06, and Saint Louis taking it in ’99.
The two combatants also met up five times in the precursor to the state tourney, the Oahu Prep Bowl, with the Crusaders winning them all (in 1989, ’93, ’94, ’95 and ’98) during their incredible run of 13 straight.
So that means Saint Louis has a 6-4 edge in title games against Kahuku.
For Mililani, the days of the triple threat of Milton, Malepeai and wide receiver Kalakaua Timoteo are over.
Malepeai gained 258 yards rushing to pass Joe Igber‘s all-time rushing record. He was bulling and dancing all night long. He even took some snaps in the wildcat offense as the Trojans’ so-called fifth-string quarterback.
Malepeai credited everyone in his life for getting him this far (a state title, one state runner-up finish, one state semifinal loss and a scholarship to play for Oregon). He was crying and slightly heaving out happy tears of emotion.
He talked about everyone who has helped him along the way and the gut-felt emotion really hit home when he spoke about his 16-year old brother, Leiloa Malepeai, who he said was a special education student.
“It’s tough sometimes, but he and my whole family mean so much to me and do so much for me,” Malepeai said.
Mililani offensive lineman Andru Tovi, who was a big part of the run to the state title last year, said it was a “privilege” to have blocked for Malepeai.
“He gave everything he had and all with his heart,” Tovi said about Hawaii’s new rushing king. “After we won it all last year, he came out the next day and started training for this year.”
Milton, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s offensive player of the year last season, was out for six weeks with a shoulder injury and returned for last week’s first-round win over Hilo. He went down late in the first half with a re-injury of his right shoulder on a roughing the quarterback penalty by Saint Louis. He spent the whole second half in a sling and said he would probably be going to see a doctor.
On the play in which Milton was hurt, a long pass to Timoteo to the Saint Louis 1, three penalties were called. Saint Louis’ Isaiah Tufaga was called for targeting a defenseless receiver with a big hit on Timoteo, who walked away unscathed while Milton stayed on the carpet. The other penalty was an offsides call against the Trojans, so the offsetting infractions put the ball back at the original line of scrimmage. Had the Trojans scored, they could have trimmed the deficit to 28-21, but the way the Crusaders were playing it still may have not meant that much.
After the game, Milton was part of a selfie with his girlfriend and got a kiss from her. His brother Matt gave him a lei and said, “I’m very, very, extremely proud of you, dude.”
“It’s obviously disappointing, especially those turnovers” Milton said about the loss. “I am blessed to be a Trojan and I don’t have any regrets.”
So, what can we expect next week? Saint Louis’ Evaimalu isn’t exactly sure.
“We’ve got to come back and play a whole ‘nother team,” he said. “We’re used to playing against good passing teams and they’re (the Red Raiders) a running team.”