The hits keep coming, records keep falling.
Vavae Malepeai remains the same. Mililani’s starting running back often gains yardage because of an offensive line that has played at an elite level dating back well before his first start as a sophomore in 2013. Malepeai does a lot of genius work between the tackles, as well, blasting through creases and canyons at the point of attack. Defenders unwilling to get into a low base are usually knocked over by Malepeai’s power.
Tacklers using weak technique get a good bop to the chest by Malepeai’s jarring stiff arms. There is probably nobody in the state better than the senior at hand-to-hand combat while running at near-full speed through a storm of enemies.
It all adds up. On Friday night at Moanalua, the 6-foot, 200-pound, Oregon-bound energizer rumbled and raced to 282 rushing yards on just 24 carries as the Trojans soared to a 60-36 win. The yardage total and five-touchdown sum are believed to be single-game Mililani school records. He surpassed elegant, loping, long-striding Brian Daniels, who gained 279 yards in a game against Kailua in 2000.
“That’s Mililani, they’ve been that way the last three or four years,” Moanalua coach Jason Cauley said. “They’re hard to stop. They’re beatable, but you can’t make mistakes. We had trouble tackling. We tried to emphasize at halftime, don’t leave your feet. (Malepeai) will sidestep you, run over you. You’ve got to stay up and drive through. He’s a heck of a ballplayer.”
In eight games this fall, Malepeai has 1,073 rushing yards on 129 carries (8.3 per attempt). His career rushing total: 3,692 yards. Former ‘Iolani great Joe Igber still holds the career rushing yardage mark: 4,428 yards.
Malepeai has 20 rushing TDs this season, making it three years in a row with at least 20 TDs. His career rushing TD total is now 64. Malepeai has added seven more TDs since breaking Igber’s previous mark of 56 rushing TDs against Farrington.
For all his prowess and consistency, Malepeai had cracked the top 10 of the school’s single-game rushing list only twice before last night. But with starting QB McKenzie Milton out for at least 3-5 weeks with an AC joint separation (shoulder), Malepeai and the O-line were up to the task. Well, for as long as they played.
The Trojans consistently focus on the big picture — working toward a second state title in a row — and neglect such things as records.
“The O-line did a tremendous job. Good things happen when you hustle and do your job, execute and play hard. I’m proud of these guys,” Coach Rod York said.
Malepeai loves to do his part as a blocker in pass protection. He enjoys getting blocks from his teammates, whether it’s big-play receiver Kala Timoteo or their sturdy linemen. Even after a monster statistical night.
“We’ve got to get better. Work harder and play harder,” he said. “We’re all out here fighting for each other, for the guy next to us.”
Malepeai left with just over 7 minutes to go in the third quarter after scooting for an 89-yard TD run. The Trojans ushered in their reserves in large doses after that. Though Moanalua gang-tackled and swarmed for much of the night, Malepeai made them pay royally when they didn’t get pursuit as a group. Had he stayed in the game for the rest of the third quarter, he likely would’ve cracked the 300-yard mark.
Against a hustling, but tiring defense, the all-time state mark of 379 yards held by Jesse Carney (vs. Kalani, 2010) would have been in danger. But York wisely pulled the plug and preserved Malepeai and his front line. Malepeai began the season — preseason — with a stubborn turf toe injury.
Now the Trojans are evolving with different key components.
“Sometimes it’s kind of hard because you’ve been with somebody since sophomore year and sometimes it feels even longer. Plus the bond we built, it’s basically like we’re brothers,” Malepeai said.
“But you’ve got to go with what you’ve got. It’s about helping our two young cats,” Malepeai said of reserve QBs Kaysen Higa and Dillon Gabriel. “I love those guys, too. It’s a matter of believing in them and helping them get more confident.”
Higa passed for 194 yards and two TDs without a pick (11-for-20) while playing the first and third quarters. Gabriel, promoted from the junior varsity earlier in the week, was 12-for-21, 116 yards and a TD without an interception.
Combined, they were 23-for-41, 310 yards, three TDs and no picks. Those are fairly robust and effective numbers for any passing attack. Maybe they’re not quite Milton-esque, but they did plenty enough to complement Malepeai’s record-breaking performance.
Higa was sacked once for a loss of 4 yards. Gabriel, wearing No. 96, picked up 30 yards on three carries.
“I told Dillon, there’s really nothing different from JV. Same plays, everybody’s a little faster,” wide receiver Kalakaua Timoteo said. “It’s about us making grabs for him and he has the confidence knowing that it’s him throwing the ball in the area and we’ll be able to go and make the grab. He doesn’t have to make the spectacular throws like McKenzie Milton.”
Higa, a right-hander, and Gabriel, a southpaw, delivered with enough consistency for the state’s most prolific offense. But there are players and coaches in the world of football who believe it takes time to adjust to differing tail action on a football thrown by a righty compared to a lefty. Timoteo doesn’t notice any difference.
“Honestly, I really don’t know. During the moment it’s in my area, I’m just going to grab it. People will say this and that, but there’s really no difference,” said Timoteo, a returning All-State first-team selection.”
Timoteo had seven receptions for 71 yards to lead a diversified passing game. Bryson Ventura had both of his receptions — for 53 yards — in the first quarter, including a 25-yard TD.
Despite missing last week’s game against Kailua with an ankle injury, Timoteo has 38 receptions for 783 yards and 14 TDs this fall.