A shorter version of this story appears in Saturday’s Star-Advertiser
They’re deep enough to challenge their OIA nemesis, but the Farrington Governors would really like to be at full strength.
When the 4 p.m. semifinal between fifth-ranked Farrington (9-2) and No. 2-ranked Mililani (11-0) kicks off on Saturday, the Govs may be without senior running back Ranan Mamiya. He suffered a right knee injury in last week’s 22-6 quarterfinal win over Maui. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound playmaker has rushed for 1,203 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns. That includes his 159 yards and one TD against Maui. The prelimiary prognosis after the Maui game was that Mamiya had a partial MCL tear.
Mamiya’s MRI this week came up negative.
“It’s one of those things. We’ll wait and see until game day,” Farrington coach Randall Okimoto said. “I expect him to play.”
It’s an eerie rerun of last year’s postseason, when leading rusher Sanele Lavatai suffered an injury in the quarterfinal round against Baldwin and didn’t suit up for the semifinal game against Punahou.
“We’re preparing for a healthy Mamiya,” Mililani coach Rod York said. “He’s a great kick return and punt returner. Any time he has the ball in his hands, something special can happen. The kid has heart.”
Without Mamiya, the Govs have one of the best backup RBs in the state to fill in: Challen Faamatau. The 5-10, 183-pound senior stepped in for Mamiya and rushed for 141 yards — 80 after Mamiya’s injury — and a TD against Maui. Faamatau’s versatility and slashing ability are key. He has already rushed for 730 yards (6.2 per carry) and nine TDs, but also has 10 receptions for 151 yards and a TD.
“He’s dangerous. I thought he was good the whole time, but they mostly go to Mamiya,” York said. “I wondered why they didn’t go to him as a dual threat.”
If Mamiya doesn’t play, one thing Farrington probably won’t be able to replace is his success on returns. He has returned a kickoff and a punt for TDs, and he’s even thrown for another 6-pointer. If he does suit up and play, that might be a bonus in the mindsets of the Govs.
It’s been somewhat of a patchwork situation for Farrington, which lost 6-1, 180-pound wide receiver Kingston Moses-Sanchez to a concussion two weeks ago. Then again, wide receiver D.J. Chaffin returned from a foot injury and played a key role with a TD catch against Maui. Cornerback William Prescott‘s return has been a big boost to the secondary.
Okimoto wants his team to be as focused as possible.
“We’re concerned about their minds, doing their assignments and not getting caught up in the hype of the game,” he said.
The last time these teams met, a wild first half came to a bizarre close when Govs quarterback Montana Liana was ejected for a late hit after throwing an interception. At that point, Farrington had moved the ball with success, but couldn’t punch it in enough and trailed 34-14 en route to a 41-14 regular-season loss.
“We’ve definitely talked about that game,” Okimoto said. “The score wasn’t how close the game was. We’ve watched the video, gone over the mistakes. We should be more confident now, playing more games after that game.”
Liana threw for 188 yards and a TD in that short stint. Since returning from a mandatory one-game suspension, the senior has been on point, completing 38 of 56 attempts (68 percent) for 415 yards with five TDs and just one pick. That adds up to a passer rating of 156, the best four-game stretch of Liana’s career.
“It would’ve been a different game last time had the quarterback not gotten kicked out,” York said. “Farrington plays great defense. They have a good running game, a quarterback that can move the chains and throw the deep ball.”
Farrington rushed for 121 yards in that Sept. 27 matchup with Mililani, but that number might be misleading. The Govs weren’t able to throw with any effectiveness after Liana departed.
They’ll still have to face Mililani’s stalwart defensive tackle, Rex Manu. Mililani defensive end Kaimana Padello is, arguably, the quickest off the edge statewide. The Trojans’ defense is permitting just 98.2 rushing yards per game (3.1 per carry). Their defense has intercepted a whopping 22 passes.
Farrington’s silent weapons are often their fullbacks, Bugsy Tui (5-7, 248) and Freedom Alualu (5-8, 252).
“That’s a concern for us. They pancaked our guys (last time), so we widened up our guys. Those two guys are a load. I didn’t realize how good they are until watching the film,” York said.
Then there’s the Trojan offense, a quick-hitting, uptempo army that has worn down defenses all season. Mililani is averaging 48 points and 478.2 yards per game. When the Trojans are in attack mode, quarterback McKenzie Milton exploits the weakest link of a defense, throwing the ball to the best option rather than relying on just one or two receivers.
Milton, a 5-10, 150-pound junior, has thrown for 2,638 yards on 70-percent accuracy with 28 TDs and only seven picks. He has also run for 788 yards and 12 TDs to lead all quarterbacks statewide.
But their 20-7 win over Kahuku in the OIA D-I final two weeks ago is proof positive that coach Rod York is all about championships. Once they secured a two-TD lead, the Trojans went often to running back Vavae Malepeai, who took the punishment and kept coming back for more as the Trojans went into a ball-control mode.
Mililani’s offensive line has been outstanding, a mobile unit that has kept up in York’s fast-paced, no-huddle approach. They’ll face a Farrington D-line that features highly-recruited DT Breiden Fehoko.
The Govs will have to contend with Malepeai, a relentless force of nature. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior has rushed for 1,146 yards and 23 TDs. He leads all running backs with 189 carries (6.1 yards per attempt), and the toll is taking effect. Even with last week’s opening-round bye, the Trojans are healing.
“We’ve got to get our O-line healthy. Vae’s a little banged up,” York said on Thursday morning, noting that the Kahuku battle left Malepeai sore. “He didn’t practice the last two days.”
Kainoa Wilson, York added, hurt his shoulder in the same game. Wilson (20 receptions, 347 yards, six TDs) missed six games with a broken collarbone, then returned for big performances against Kaiser and Campbell.
“We’ll move him out to wide receiver. That’s why the bubble screen wasn’t working (against Kahuku). His shoulder was sore,” York said.
Kalakaua Timoteo has been steady with Wilson in and out of the lineup. The 6-1, 195-pound junior has 39 receptions for 771 yards and seven TDs, though he missed some time in recent weeks due to a shoulder injury.
The focus for Mililani, even with its prolific offense, is going to be defense. That’s no surprise, not with a head coach who was a defensive lineman in college.
“We want to make teams throw,” York said. “(Farrington’s) passing game isn’t weak, but they aren’t known for passing. Third-and-long, try and make them find holes and we can put pressure on their quarterback. You can never underestimate their hearts. We have to make sure we do our jobs and execute. If we don’t, it’s going to be a long night.”