Separated by just five miles along Kamehameha Highway, it took a change in division alignments to keep Mililani and Leilehua apart the last two football seasons.
Reunited in the OIA Red this season, the Trojans and Mules close the regular season on Friday with a renewal of the Central Oahu rivalry.
Leilehua leads the series 21-15-1 since its inception in 1975 although Mililani has a 12-5 edge since 2000 and won both meetings in 2013 before the two-year hiatus.
Along with bringing the neighboring programs back together on the field, Friday’s game at Leilehua’s Hugh Yoshida Stadium holds considerable weight for both teams in the division standings.
No. 7 Mililani (4-2, 4-2 OIA Red) can claim the second seed in the division and a first-round bye in the OIA Division I playoffs with a win in the regular-season finale.
“There’s big reasons we’re playing other than the rivalry,” Mililani coach Rod York said. “We’re playing for seeding and byes and confidence. Hopefully a lot of people come out and support.”
A Leilehua (3-4, 3-3) victory would vault the Mules into the third seed, giving them home field for the first round of the playoffs.
“This is going to be momentum going into the playoffs so we want to do well,” Leilehua coach Nolan Tokuda said. “We’re going to have guys out, but then again at the end of the year everybody has guys out. So next man up, trust the scheme, trust each other and play smart football.”
Mililani enters the final week of the regular season looking to recover from a 34-28 loss to Kailua last Friday after the Trojans bolted out to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
“It was a long bus ride back,” York said. “But through the adversity we build and reveal character. We’ve seen a lot about our team. We’ve got the pieces, we just have to put them together.”
Leilehua recovered from an 0-3 start with losses to current No. 3 Punahou, No. 1 Kahuku and No. 4 Kapolei to win three of its last four. Following a 19-7 loss to Farrington, the Mules generated momentum with decisive wins over Kailua (37-15) and Castle (41-14) going into a bye last week.
“As the season’s gone on we’ve gotten better and better,” Tokuda said. “You’re able to adjust things teams were able to exploit early and we’re able to recognize it and this is how we’re going to fix it.”
Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel leads the Mililani offense with 1,060 passing yards and 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions while completing 53 percent of his attempts. Leilehua counters with the “two-headed monster” of Kona Andres and Kaleo Aloha Piceno. Andres has thrown for 1,067 yards and nine scores while Piceno is Leilehua’s leading rusher and has six touchdown passes, two rushing scores and three touchdown receptions.
“That way the offensive linemen and skills don’t have to pick who their stating quarterback is, they both are. They both do different things,” Tokuda said.
The Trojans and Mules will add another chapter to a series that began with a 35-0 Leilehua win in 1975. The Mules won 15 of the first 18 meetings between the schools, but they played just once in a six-year span between 1993 and ’98, a 28-7 Leilehua win in 1996.
The rivalry resumed in 1999 with a 7-7 tie and the schools met at least once annually until 2014. York is 3-2 against Leilehua since taking over the Mililani program in 2010. Tokuda is in his 12th season (not counting a sabbatical in 2011) and is 4-8 against Mililani with eight of those games decided by seven points or less.
Before the latest break in the series, Mililani won the regular-season meeting in 2013 44-14 behind Vavae Malepeai’s 116 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The Trojans also won a rematch in the OIA playoffs 21-9 on their way to the league title.
Since 2006, they’ve met in the postseason three times, including Leilehua’s 27-21 win in 2007 in sophomore Andrew Manley‘s varsity debut to start an improbable run to the state championship.
Although the teams met in preseason scrimmages in the years they did not play in the regular season, there’s nothing quite like game night.
“The schools are only five miles apart and it goes back generations,” York said. “It’s turned into a good friendly rivalry because a lot of the Leilehua grads back in the day live in the Mililani community and their kids go to Mililani. Drama’s always good to throw in there and make it interesting. It’s fun.”
Jerry Campany highlighted some of the series’ memorable meetings prior to the 2013 regular-season game.