The roller coaster doesn’t end for the Kahuku Red Raiders.
For Mililani, the blend of experimental laboratory and tough-nosed fundamentals continue well into Coach Rod York’s ninth season.
Kahuku’s 27-7 loss to Mililani in the OIA Open championship game on Friday night at Aloha Stadium was, in many ways, a sequel to the first meeting between the teams. In their first matchup, Mililani prevailed 38-10 on Kahuku’s homecoming despite muddy terrain and the home team’s 51-game win streak at Carleton Weimer Field.
This time, Kahuku’s defense came up with two turnovers, but was stonewalled on the ground for much of the night. Up and down, up and down. The seven-point output is the lowest of the season for Kahuku, which scored 14 points against Saint Louis. No Hawaii team had limited Big Red to 7 points or less since Oct. 31, 2014.
That’s when — guess who? — Mililani won at Kahuku, 20-7. During the same stretch, only two other teams have held Kahuku to seven points: Bishop Gorman (Nev.) in ’16 and Bingham (Utah) in ’17.
Now the Red Raiders enter the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships with a semifinal matchup against No. 1 Saint Louis.
“Now we know who we’ll prepare for — the best team in the state,” Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho said, referring to No. 1 Saint Louis. “It came down to big plays. Mililani made four and we made one. We’ve got to be able to sustain drives.”
Kahuku’s defense brought the heat on Mililani quarterback Dillon Gabriel, but he was simply unbreakable. He was in the grasp of a Kahuku pass rusher outside the pocket, but still unleashed a long pass that turned into a 67-yard touchdown to Ryan Chang.
“We brought pressure on Gabriel, but we had broken coverages,” Carvalho said.
Gabriel, the senior who broke the state career passing yardage record last month, was composed. His counterpart, Kahuku junior Robbie Sauvao, showed enough awareness in the pocket to extend a few plays, but was on the run for most of the night. Mililani’s defense was relentless against Kahuku’s pistol and pistol “deluxe” formations. Any semblance of a Kahuku option game was disassembled early by Mililani’s front seven, including defensive lineman Mykah Tuiolemotu. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound stopper was simply too quick.
“Mykah, to me, should be player of the year, but people want to look at his size, not his heart,” York said. “His leadership, he inspires the whole team. He’s a vocal leader in the locker room and he controls the team, to be honest. He’s humble. He’s, honestly, like a coach. A leader, a captain. When he speaks, the team listens.”
Was it the best defensive performance of the season by Mililani? Probably. The Trojans certainly had plenty of discipline and excellent positioning. Mililani’s biggest defensive play of the first half came on a sack by Tuiolemotu, and after linebacker Darius Muasau forced a fumble, defensive end Shane Kady came up with the ball.
Kahuku snatched interceptions in that sequence, getting picks by Frisco Aveau and Joseph Taufa, but Gabriel struck gold. He found Cy Kuboyama-Hayashi on a 29-yard TD pass and moments later Kady came up with a sack of Sauvao. That led to a third Mililani TD late in the first half. The Red Raiders never recovered.
“When Mililani got to Robbie early, his eyes went down instead of him making his reads,” Carvalho said. “We’ll head back to the drawing board.”