This is the moment of truth for the Mililani football team.
The Trojans have been here before — the state championship game — and came out on the wrong end of a 28-22 showdown against Punahou last season.
This is a new time against the same team and they’re fighting for a new result. Is Friday their day? Or not?
One thing the coaches and players acknowledge is that they do not want to get off to a slow start like they did last year.
“We want to start fast and finish strong,” running back Vavae Malepeai said at the end of Wednesday night’s practice. “Last year, we didn’t come out strong and they (the Buffanblu) played well. This time, it’s all in God’s hands and we are blessed just to be here. We have to make sure our minds are right. If we play to the best of our ability, we should be fine.”
The Trojans (12-0) are looking or their first state championship. Last year’s foray into the title game was the closest they’ve come, and that’s when the Buffanblu (8-0) wrapped up their second state crown.
Mililani’s offense has been explosive all season, but ran into a bit of a roadblock in the past two games — 20 points against Kahuku in the OIA title game and then 17 against Farrington in the state semifinals.
The same thing has happened to Punahou, which scored just 13 points in its state semifinal win over Kahuku and its only touchdown came on special teams.
“You know the saying, defense wins championships,” Trojans defensive end Kaimana Padello said. “We have to give it all out there. All heart. Give until we have nothing left.”
Jordan Agasiva, a standout tackle, calls last year’s loss to Punahou a “big wake-up call.”
“We need to play the best game we’ve ever played,” he said. “We want to close our senior years here the right way and accomplish everything that we’ve been working for for four years.”
Coach Rod York is wary of Punahou’s defense, for sure.
“Last year, their front seven killed us,” he said. “Their ’backers are fast and active and they clamp on you. They are so flexible on defense that sometimes they bring seven at you and sometimes they drop eight in pass coverage.
“Our O-line is ready for it. I hope to score points and I’m confident we can. We are going to need to run the ball. The kids are excited for this game and they’re getting me excited for it.”
The usual suspects will be in the limelight on offense for Mililani — Malepeai (1,155 yards, 23 touchdowns), quarterback McKenzie Milton (2,918 passing yards, 28 TD passes, 764 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs), Kalakaua Timoteo (871 receiving yards, 7 TDs), and Kainoa Wilson (six touchdowns despite limited action).
Defensively, the unquestioned leader of the ship is Rex Manu on the line, and he sets the tone for the rest of the tough bunch with his tenacity. He’s pumped up for this huge test against Punahou’s offense in the biggest game of the year.
York is thinking positively and trying to keep his boys in their “humble and hungry” mode.
“Another one of our mottos is to make the unpopular popular,” York said. “We’re going to win, that is our goal.”