At halftime of Friday night’s game between Mililani and Liberty (Nev.) High, Tim Guesman, who covered the game for the Star-Advertiser in Henderson, Nev., texted, “Liberty takes a knee and we are at the half. I need a medic. STAT.”
The Patriots led 39-32 and combined with the Trojans to pile up 712 total yards, making the stat-keeping job tough for any reporter. Guesman was in the middle of a shootout that most felt Mililani was well-equipped to handle. It has quarterback McKenzie Milton, the Trojans’ all-time leading passer after last night’s 421-yard, five-touchdown performance. It has Vavae Malepeai, the Oregon commit at running back who surpassed 3,000 career yards Friday night as well. It also has two receivers in Hawaii commit Kalakaua Timoteo and Bryson Ventura, who combined for 376 receiving yards and put up two of the six best single-game performances ever at Mililani.
Mililani gambled on the opening kickoff of the second half and recovered an onsides kick. A 46-yard pass from Milton to Makana Tauai put the ball on the 2-yard line. The Trojans were set to tie the game and put all of the pressure on the Patriots, who just six days earlier had lost 43-16 to Saint Louis.
Instead, the Patriots held Malepeai out of the end zone twice and then intercepted Milton in the end zone on fourth down. It was one of two end zone interceptions Milton threw. Sophomore Kenyon Oblad came back and tossed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Dedeaux and it was over from then on. Mililani couldn’t stop the Patriots the rest of the way and the end result was a 76-53 loss, snapping a 16-game losing streak by the defending state champion Trojans.
“We came in ready to go,” Mililani coach Rod York said after the game. “Liberty just came in and kicked our (behind). Hats off to their coaching staff and their players. They made one heck of a game plan.”
Mililani had gone 25 straight quarters since trailing in a game (7-6 to Kahuku in the second quarter of the 2014 OIA title game). The 76 points given up by Mililani were 21 more than the Trojans had given up in any game in the 40-year history of the program.
This was also the first time Mililani had played a team outside of Hawaii. The travel seemed to hurt the Patriots early in their loss to the Crusaders last week at Aloha Stadium. It was 34-0 in the second quarter before Liberty started to find itself. Was it the same for Mililani?
“No way,” York responded. “We just could not stop their running game. Defense wins championships. If you score 53 points you should win. But we are going to learn from this and get better.”
Was that a coach simply trying not to make excuses? Liberty coach Rich Muraco was well-aware how tough the travel is.
“Having done what they just did, get on a plane and travel for six hours, it is one of the most difficult things you can imagine,” Muraco said. “High school kids really don’t know how to handle it. When we went to Hawaii last week, we didn’t feel like we played our best game there, and I’m sure Mililani doesn’t feel like they played their best game here.”
Whatever the case, Liberty brought to light the glaring weakness in the defending state champs. Mililani had given up 14 points to McKinley and 21 points to both Campbell and Kapolei, but entering Saturday’s games, those three teams are a combined 1-11.
Against Saint Louis, Liberty was held to 72 rushing yards on 37 attempts. The Patriots finished with 508 rushing yards and eight touchdowns against the Trojans. Dedeaux totaled seven touchdowns and 446 all-purpose yards while running back Chad Tebay had 204 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Muraco was hoping to run the ball and take time off the clock to try and keep the Trojans offense off the field. Instead, Mililani’s offense was constantly on the field because the defense kept giving up long touchdown after long touchdown.
Liberty laid the groundwork for how to beat Mililani. Fortunately for the Trojans, a loss in Nevada in early September has no bearing on what happens in the OIA tournament in October and the state tournament in November. Everything Mililani wants to achieve is in front of it and that is exactly what York acknowledged after the game.
“I will fight for this kind of bye week every time,” York said. “We want to go into hostile environments, we want to face the Libertys and Bishop Gormans. Because we are going to improve and get better. This experience is precious.”
How precious? We’ll find out in two months.