Coach Rod York was oozing with spirit Wednesday night at Mililani’s second-to-last full practice before Saturday’s big game.
The vibes he gave off were coming in crystal clear: the Trojans believe they can do what many feel is the impossible.
The task at hand is the Open Division finale of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships. Mililani (9-2) is considered an underdog against the Saint Louis Crusaders (10-0), the top-ranked team in the state and as high as No. 8 in the national rankings in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
“Yeah, Saint Louis bleeds like everyone else,” York said. “They better strap it up. I told our boys the same thing. ‘They (the Crusaders) are two-time defending champions and a top-10 team in the nation for a reason, so don’t come in there treating it like it’s going to be easy. Get ready because they’re coming, but so are we.’ ”
“Every game, we try to treat like a championship game, so when we get to this game, we’re already ready. We’ve been keeping our routine and we’ll be all right. We’re ready. For us, it’s about us, playing our keys, making sure we align right, making sure we’ve got our assignments down and we’ve got our eyes right … and we’ll play ball.”
So far, no team has stopped the Saint Louis offense this year, and it’s a rare sight that Mililani isn’t moving the ball in fine-tuned fashion. So, even if the Trojans can have offensive success against the Crusaders’ feared front seven, their chances are ultimately likely to rest on their defense.
At Wednesday’s practice, three Mililani defensive players gave their thoughts about Saturday’s game, one from each part of the unit. Here’s what they said:
>> Asher Pilanca, cornerback — “We have to make sure we put pressure on the quarterback (Saint Louis’ Jayden de Laura). As DBs, we have to prepare for eight seconds, play to the whistle and make sure we give every rep 100 percent. Every challenge is a challenge. You have to find a way to pick at it and get over it. Our defense can scheme it. Our schemes are good and we could disguise and give the (Saint Louis) offense different looks.”
>> Darius Muasau, linebacker — “We want to get out there and be confident and execute what the coaches are teaching us. We’ve been preparing for this game this whole time. This is a game everyone wants to see. We have to have the right attitude, do our job and trust our brothers. For the linebackers this week, we’ve been focusing on the pass. Saint Louis is a deadly passing team. We’ve been focusing on dropping outs, and since Saint Louis is also a good running team, we’re focusing on coming down on the run and working pretty much on tackling. We gotta tackle Jayden de Laura and their running backs.”
>> Shane Kady, defensive end — “The defense has to work as one unit. Everyone has to do their job. Otherwise we won’t be able to make plays and stops. For our D-line, the main thing is pressure on the QB because they have good personnel and we need to be able to put pressure and try to mess up the play and get sacks and stuff. Out of all the teams out there, they seem to have the most variety of plays. They’re not just a running team and they’re not just a passing team. They can do it all. We have to come out stronger and play ball. We’ve been going over all of their schemes and getting ready and preparing for what we have to go against.”
The whole state knows just how dynamic Trojans QB Dillon Gabriel and his large cast of receivers can be. But all of that is predicated on the play of the offensive line.
Right guard Jacob Tuatagaloa, who is 6 feet 3 and 315 pounds, spoke for the crew (which also includes right tackle Ikaika Lafaele, center Mason Miyashiro, left guard Sergio Muasau and left tackle Mikey Agasiva) up front on Wednesday:
“Mikey is only a freshman and it’s been special to watch him improve over the months. I was the starting right tackle in the first game. I hyped Ikaika and told him, ‘You’ve got it, man.’ And after that talk, he started to slowly come up and become the starter. Me and Serge go way back to our JPS years. We’ve got a strong bond, me him and Mason.
“It’s going to be a fun game, especially since Tui (Crusaders defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele) is my cousin. I can’t wait for the opportunity to go against him. Everyone is talking about how he has so many college offers, but I hype up our boys. I tell them that even though they have stars, don’t get it in your head that since they have stars then we don’t. Stars don’t matter. Their front seven, they have a weakness. It just hasn’t been exposed yet. Come Saturday, we’ll find it. We got ’em. Our task is to give Dillon as much time as possible. He’s the triggerman we have to protect. He makes the plays and we do the dirty work. Dillon and the wide receivers, give them as much time as they need.”
The Trojans have been to three state championship games. In two top-tier finales, they lost 28-22 to Punahou in 2013 before beating Punahou 53-45 in 2014.
In 2016, Mililani defeated ‘Iolani 31-20 in the middle-tier title game.