Vavae Malepeai and the rest of the Mililani offense did their part to help freshman Dillon Gabriel get comfortable in his first varsity start on Saturday.
Mililani coach Rod York gave Gabriel the starting assignment for the Trojans’ OIA Division I quarterfinal game against Moanalua, and it helps when he can turn around and hand the ball off to one of the state’s most prolific backs.
Malepeai gave Gabriel a lead to work with by breaking loose on a 70-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage en route to a 245-yard, four touchdown night in Mililani’s 48–13 win at John Kauinana Stadium.
“With Dillon out here, we just had to make him comfortable by doing our job so that he can do his job more efficiently,” Malepeai said.
Malepeai went over 200 yards in the first quarter and passed Kama Bailey into fourth place on Oahu’s all-time rushing list with 3,937 yards. His total on Saturday was his second highest of his career and matched James Fenderson‘s 245-yard effort against Kalani in 1994 for fourth in the program’s history.
Gabriel did his job by passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns while completing 12 of 22 attempts. The freshman saw action late in the regular season as Mililani adjusted to the absence of senior McKenzie Milton and Gabriel’s command of the system convinced York to give him control of the offense to open the postseason.
York said it was “the little things. Making the reads, making the correct throws, being able to draw the defense up and tell me what they’re doing.”
Having solid protection doesn’t hurt either and the Mililani offensive line kept Gabriel clean for most of the night while opening the way for Malepeai, who ran for 203 yards and four scores in the first quarter.
Malepeai’s performance in the game’s first 12 minutes may have been the most impressive stretch of a highly productive career against Moanalua.
He made his varsity debut with a two-touchdown effort against Na Menehune in Mililani’s 2013 opener and ran for 122 yards and two scores in last year’s meeting.
Malepeai faced Moanalua twice in the past three weeks and rolled up a staggering 527 yards, including a school-record 282 in the regular-season finale on Oct. 2, and nine touchdowns in Mililani victories to raise his career totals against Na Menehune to 723 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“Vavae’s the best running back in the state, by far,” Moanalua coach Jason Cauley said. “Best running back in the state I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
Mililani advanced to face Waianae in a semifinal game on Friday at Aloha Stadium. The Trojans and Seariders last met on Aug, 30, 2013 with Malepeai running for 117 yards and two touchdowns and returning a kickoff 95 yards for a score in Mililani’s 44-24 win.
But history, even as recent as Saturday night, doesn’t mean much to York and the Trojans.
“We practiced that throughout the year because we only look one week as time,” York said of the Trojans’ postseason mind-set. “We reset our record. Our record is 0-0 now.”