Rod York and Joe Wong. Waimanalo boys. Former offensive linemen. Mutual respect.
They talk highly of each other, and, in one sense, they’ll get to duke it out Saturday night in Kailua. They’ll be on the sidelines coaching their respective teams in an effort to beat the other with lots at stake in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Blue.
On one side is York, who has taken Mililani from an annual outside contender to last year’s Division I state championship.
On the other side is Wong, who has engineered a complete turnaround in his second year at Kailua. The Surfriders (6-1, 5-1), ranked eighth in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10, can tie the third-ranked Trojans (5-1, 5-0) and No. 6 Farrington (5-1, 4-1) at the top of the division with a win.
“It’s called ‘Nalo pride,” said York, who showed up at Kailua’s 37-24 win at Moanalua last Friday wearing a blue shirt. Fitting in, right? Both schools’ main color is blue. But looking a little closer, behind the stuff he was carrying from the concession stand to his seat, the unmistakable “Y” logo of BYU (Wong’s alma mater) was right there, printed on his shirt.
“We have a lot of pride because it’s a small town,” York said. “He’s a little younger than me. As kids I would see him at the gym in Waimanalo. He went to Kailua. I went to ‘Iolani. But I met him again at UH (when both were offensive lineman and before Wong transferred to BYU), and he was always a great guy. He’s all about sharing and caring. He’s very humble and easy to talk to. It’s not a surprise what he’s doing, and he turned it around so fast. I’m proud of him and his accomplishments and it’s scary to think where Kailua will be two to three years down the line.”
And the same type of glowing remarks came from Wong about York:
“Rod and I go way back. We were teammates at UH. We played together, had battles together. It’s nice to see him doing such a great job at Mililani. I know he’s been saying some good stuff about us. He’s a really great guy and the feeling is mutual.”
But how will the coaches handle what’s put in front of them on the other side of the ball on Saturday. For Wong and Kailua, the whole state knows one of the toughest things to do is put a rein on the Mililani offense. For York and Mililani, will the slower real grass field (they’ve played all of their games, scrimmages and practices on Fieldturf this year) be a factor against a hungry team with a newfound passion that is celebrating homecoming?
Well, here’s what Wong had to say about the challenge:
“Our preparation is the same every week. The only difference is Mililani is the defending state champions. They have good players across the board. We will need to mentally and physically execute and protect the football. If we do that and all of the players do their jobs, then we’ve got a chance. If we gave them turnovers, it will be playing right into their hands. We’ve got to stick with our game plan and not lose track of it. We don’t want to be giving up any cheap points.”
And here’s what York said:
“We’re gonna be ready for a battle. We travel there. We’re used to Fieldturf and now we’ll be playing on grass and mud and dirt and weeds and rocks. It’s homecoming for them and they’re having a dream season. If we win, we can probably lock up the No. 1 seed (and the bye that comes with it in the OIA playoffs). It doesn’t get much more exciting than this.”
Mililani is known for its potent offense that has been led by quarterback McKenzie Milton (1,971 yards, 26 TDs passing) and running back Vavae Malepeai (624 yards, 14 TDs rushing) for three years now. Kalakaua Timoteo (712 yards, 13 TDs receiving) and Bryson Ventura (366 yards, five TDs receiving) are big-play, go-to guys as well behind a line anchored by Andru Tovi.
Defensively, the Trojans have been getting huge performances from linebacker MJ Tanuvasa, defensive end Kaimana Padello and many other scrappers.
Kailua has been balanced offensively, with quarterback Noah Auld (1,513 yards and 21 TDs passing) a tough customer in the pocket, throwing to a cast of receivers led by Martin Tigilau (564 yards, 11 TDs receiving) and Isaiah Damo-Agcaoili (378 yards receiving). The line led by two massive tackles (6-5, 265-pound Sione Veikoso, and 6-5, 270-pound Nilsson Gaisoa) give Auld and a couple of diminutive running backs (5-foot-8, 160-pound Gabriel LeLesch, and 5-8, 150-pound Mark Lagazo) plenty of space.
John-Adams Naeole-Kalima (5-8, 310 pounds) provides more beef and tenacity on the Surfriders’ O-line, and Kahewe Kohatsu (6-3, 210 pounds) and Christian Mejia (6-4, 210) provide potency along Kailua’s defensive line.
Saturday’s game time is approximately 6:30 p.m. at Kailua’s Alex Kane Stadium.