It was just an initial, relatively insignificant skirmish in what could be the beginning of the road to the real war.
We’re talking about Cal Lee’s Saint Louis Crusaders against Rod York’s Mililani Trojans. The battle lines have been drawn, but there is no assurance that either of these two teams will hold up in the long run of very difficult schedules.
But — as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 media poll voters have told us the last two weeks — Mililani is the No. 1 team in the land, and Saint Louis is No. 2.
Plenty of teams will be aiming at them, including some real big threats such as No. 3 Punahou, No. 4 Kahuku and No. 5 Kamehameha, to name just a few.
It’s on the minds of many Hawaii high school football fans that the No. 1 vs. No. 2 scenario could play out similarly to last season, when Punahou took the early season top ranking and rode it all the way to the Division I state title game before losing to Mililani, which had been right behind them for much of the way.
Anything can happen between now and the state tournament in November, but that’s not going to stop Hawaii Prep World from finding out what’s on the minds of the generals of the armies — Lee and York — as they prepare for the season ahead after last Saturday’s scrimmage against each other — and try to stay on a course — a collision course, perhaps — for the promised land of winning it all.
So, what did the coaches learn in Mililani’s 41-21 victory over Saint Louis in the scrimmage that, just in case you didn’t know, has no bearing on any standings and does not count on either teams’ win-loss record?
“It was a scrimmage and that’s the biggest thing,” said Lee, who is in his second year of his third incarnation as the Crusaders coach and who led them to 14 Oahu Prep Bowl wins and one state title. “We got to play everybody and evaluate them. That’s what a scrimmage is for. The kids get in and we see how they’re doing.”
Lee wishes the Interscholastic League of Honolulu had a more forgiving rule about when teams can put pads on for practice. The ILH doesn’t allow pads during the spring and most of the summer until July 27. Oahu Interscholastic Association teams, on the other hand, can put the pads on for 10 spring practices.
“It’s a bad (ILH) rule,” Lee said. “The kids have got to get accustomed to wearing the pads more than three days before their first scrimmage (Saint Louis’ first scrimmage was July 30 at Kapolei). How can you play football without a helmet and shoulder pads on? It’s like asking basketball players to play without a basket or telling basketball players they can’t shoot.”
And what does Lee think about the Crusaders’ ability (or inability, depending on how you want to phrase it at this point) in stopping the Mililani offense, a similar version of the one Saint Louis faced in an early season 63-47 loss last year?
Well, Lee didn’t comment on that point, exactly, but he did talk about what could become a reality down the line. … Actually, it “must” become a reality if the Crusaders are to bring home their first state title since 2010 and first with Lee at the helm since 1999.
In other words, can Saint Louis tighten up on D enough to corral the Trojans’ dynamic offensive stalwarts like quarterback McKenzie Milton, running back Vavae Malepeai and receiver Kalakaua Timoteo?
“Absolutely,” Lee said. “That’s gotta be the way you look at it. I really believe we’ll be a better football team.”
And it’s not only Mililani’s offense that the Crusaders are expecting to be severely tested by. Punahou, despite being one notch lower in the Top 10, is the defending ILH champion and stopping the Buffanblu will be no picnic.
Lee is still in the process of picking starters and he said that job should be done by the end of this week. In their next encounter, the Crusaders play a scrimmage on Aug. 22 against Fagaitua of American Samoa at a site to be determined. After that, they take on a challenge from Liberty, Nev., at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 29.
Mililani’s York says his team is much better after its fifth scrimmage in nine days, and he knows Saint Louis will be trying to close that 20-point gap from their contest Saturday.
“Saint Louis has great blocking and speed, and physically, they’re right up there with Kahuku (who the Trojans beat 44-30 in a scrimmage on July 31 and who the Trojans defeated 20-7 in the OIA title game last season),” York said. “I think they’re the best 11 we’ll face, athletically.
“We improved in each scrimmage from the first to the fifth (the others were against Kamehameha, Fagaitua and Leilehua).”
York also commented about the stiff competition Mililani faced against the Vikings of Samoa on Friday at home, one day before the home scrimmage against Saint Louis.
“They play great football and hit hard,” York said about Fagaitua. “They come right at you. Very impressive big and athletic kids who can run. They’re like a team full of big linebackers.”
Overall, he was pleased with his team’s performances in the two battles last weekend.
“We played assignment football,” he added. “It was good for us. The twos and threes (second- and third-stringers) got a lot of good work in. We made mistakes, of course, too. We’re not wrapping up (proper tackling) and just grabbing and taking bad angles ”
Mililani’s starters didn’t play against the Vikings, who outscored the Trojans, according to York, five touchdowns to four.
York, when asked if any of his nonstarters stepped up over the weekend, rattled off the names of slotbacks Andrew Valladares, Chad Senas and Noah Domogsac.
Lee did not want to single anybody out for making strides up the depth chart, and although he didn’t vocalize it, he insinuated that he’s looking for more effort from many.