The final numbers tell a better story, but for one half, the extremes didn’t explain much.
In the first 24 minutes, Mililani had a whopping 11 sacks, but Saint Louis seemed to have a modest level of momentum, scoring in the second quarter. The visiting Crusaders trailed 14-7 at intermission, a gift from the football gods, for sure.
Mililani closed out strong with a 28-7 win on Friday night, looking sharp — as a team as hungry and active year-round should. Kini McMillan finally got to make his debut and was superb with 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. The four scores were by four different Trojans. Raymond Roller (70 yards), two-way threat Gavin Hunter (21 yards), Ian Seale (76 yards) and Andrew Manivong Jr. (29 yards), revealing McMillan’s ability to anticipate, to use his field vision like a senior.
“He’s a playmaker, you know. He’s got a lot of things to work on and he will. We’ve just got to stay disciplined,” Mililani coach Rod York said.
It was Mililani’s first win over Saint Louis after six losses in a row. A preseason win carries only so much weight, but the process of preparation was a win in itself. The Trojans had only one turnover and limited Saint Louis to 51 rushing yards — 204 yards of total offense.
“Saint Louis is going to line up and play their regular defense no matter what the situation is. So it’s just about us executing our game plan. The reads and keys and blocking, tackling. Not busting coverage,” York said. “But keep in mind, this is preseason. That’s all it is.”
Long gone are the interleague crossover games between ILH and OIA teams. Mililani is the only OIA team that scheduled Saint Louis for an exhibition game.
“That’s why we schedule a team like Saint Louis. They always bring out the best in you,” York said. “Make no mistake about it, Kahuku, Saint Louis, they’re postseason teams. You know that. I know that, but that’s why we (play) those caliber teams. That’s going to improve us for every game after this, and we have a powerhouse in Mission Viejo coming in. It wasn’t about the win. It was about getting better.”
McMillan is only a sophomore, which begs the question: how good would he have been if not for a preseason knee injury last year? There were misses here and there, and McMillan finished 14-for-25 (56 percent), but his ability to connect deep every kind of route will have every defense on edge mentally.
The Trojan tsunami of sacks came at the expense of a Saint Louis offensive line that has no returning starters. Learning on the job, they yielded only two sacks after halftime, but the Crusaders couldn’t finish in Mililani territory.
“I didn’t know it was 11 (sacks). We also missed a lot of contain. Saint Louis is in preseason mode. They rotated their O-line just like how we rotate our slots and receivers. Come time, they aren’t rotating. They played two quarterbacks,” York noted.
Saint Louis quarterback Kekahi Graham struggled at first, but settled in after the break. ‘Oa Kamakawiwo‘ole’s elusiveness against that fierce rush was a revelation. He finished 6-for-10, 86 yards, while Graham was 8-for-16, 67 yards.
The departure of Crusader players in the offseason means they will see ex-teammates often. Former Saint Louis II/JV standout wide receiver Onosa‘i Salanoa suited up in a bright yellow jersey and white helmet, hauling in two passes for 17 yards.
But the propensity of Mililani’s sacks, a flood of yellow — reminiscent of the Oregon Ducks — from any angle was rare to see. Here’s a list of the sack men in chronological order.
Sack 1: Elijah Nua (#40)
Sack 2: Jabiel Lauvao (#49)
Sack 3: Elias Tania (#45)
Sack 4: Tania/Elton Su‘e (#41)
Sack 5: Kamaehu Roman (#7)
Sack 6: Lauvao
Sack 7: Rayge McClintock (#71)
Sack 8: Su‘e
Sack 9: Tania
Sack 10: Lauvao
Sack 11: ?
Sack 12: Bruce Leapaga (#51)
Sack 13: Nua
Thirteen QB takedowns is probably not sustainable week after week, but it will set the template for opposing offensive coordinators. Picking out Mililani’s stand-up defenders leaning in at the line of scrimmage is as much art as science. What are the tells? Is there a cheat code for offensive linemen? Or is it as simple as checking down and delivering that 2-yard toss in massive gaps.
Graham and Kamakawiwo‘ole figured it out along the way, bursting through traffic for sizable scrambles, much like AJ Bianco (Nevada) did last season. After Saint Louis receiver Nicholas Delgadillo broke free against single coverage on the left sideline during the opening series, Mililani’s secondary adjusted accordingly, even with the incomplete pass. Two series later, Graham took a sack, then scrambled for 29 yards, and then 12 more before another sack took the Crusaders out of range.
During that same drive, Graham went back to Delgadillo, a perfect deep ball that escaped Delgadillo’s grasp. Putting the pieces together will take time, but the Crusaders are quite close. Veteran coach Ron Lee is looking forward. Going back to the lab, improving everything from the often-lagging shotgun snaps to QB reads and more — it is the stuff he and his staff are built for.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys on offense. Mistakes with young guys. Quarterbacks right on down the line, no (returning starters) on offense. Mililani’s solid. I like the way they played. They made big plays on defense. So we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Lee said. “We have work to do, but I like it. We have about a month before we get into our ILH schedule. We had five opportunities to score and we had three turnovers, but that comes with being young. Good kids, they work hard. We’ll go back to work tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”
The scrambling of his QBs — Lee will go over the video footage in film study with his field generals.
“You know, they missed a lot of key reads. They were breaking out of the pocket rather than stepping up, but it was a combination of bad snap, reads, quarterbacks trying to go wide instead of stepping up in the pocket. Lot of things we have to look at on film,” he said. “This was good, playing a good team. Where do we go from here, how do we pick ourselves up and get ready for the next game.”
A nice development for the Crusaders was execution on draw plays with running back Keola Apduhan. The sophomore finished with 40 yards on eight carries.
From his sage perspective, more than five decades coaching high school and college football, Lee saw Mililani operating like a machine much of the night.
“I thought they did well, not just the QB, but overall, their offense. Good protection. The receivers made some big catches. All of that stuff I thought they looked in midseason form,” he added.
With a win in week one, the Trojans celebrated quietly.
“We never practice on Saturdays. It’s a day off,” York said. “We’ve got to heal. Some of the guys were cramping up. We’ve got to get in better shape and do a better job.”
Extra points: The scoreboard at John Kauinana Stadium was broken in 2021, but was repaired on Friday morning. Come game time, however, it was cold again. By the second half, the board and its game clock were functioning properly. … Shades of the past — Graham is the first quarterback since Tua Tagovailoa to wear No. 13. Tagovailoa excelled in his first season as a starter with 33 TDs and only three interceptions as a sophomore. As a junior, though, he was in a different mode because of a talented, but inexperienced corps of receivers — which may be the case for Saint Louis QBs this fall. … The last time Mililani defeated Saint Louis was Aug. 27, 2014 when McKenzie Milton amassed 573 total yards — 369 through the air and 204 on the ground — in a 63-47 win.