It’s not Saint Louis-Kahuku, but Mililani-Punahou is as potent a game as it gets otherwise.
Saturday’s showdown between the visiting Buffanblu and the host Trojans at John Kauinana Stadium promises to have all the combustible elements necessary for an epic, high-scoring, pinball-machine battle. Which, naturally, means that fans might end up with the opposite. Both defenses are equipped with athletic, smart and experienced returnees.
Punahou showed its ground attack in a 40-14 win at Farrington. Mililani, back home after a 52-24 loss to national No. 1 St. John Bosco, has RB Kilifi Malepeai back, and that should boost their ground game significantly. Malepeai, at 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds, is the kind of power threat between the tackles that can take much of the weight off senior quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
Fifth-ranked Punahou (2-1, 2-1 ILH Open) and No. 3 Mililani (3-1, 1-0 OIA Open) have not met since the 2014 state championship game. Mililani took the D-I crown with a wild 53-45 victory as QB McKenzie Milton passed for 440 yards and four TDs. The year before that, it was Punahou that edged Mililani 28-22 in the state final.
Longtime Buffanblu coach Kale Ane kindly returned a call and chatted about this weekend’s game with Hawaii Prep World.
HPW: What’s the practice week been like for your team?
Ane: There’s that sense of urgency, but it’s kind of business as usual.
HPW: There are a lot of experienced seniors on your roster, a lot like Mililani. Is there more excitement and fun, or is there just too much going on during a busy school day for the players to get more pumped up at practice than usual?
Ane: You can have fun doing it, but you’ve got an hour and 45 minutes, you can balance family, friends, another part of the day’s preparation.
HPW: What did your team learn from the win over Farrington?
Ane: You always want to get better. Offensively, we struggled a little bit even though we scored 40 points. A lot of balls that weren’t on target and kids still made a lot of plays. We gave up a couple of big plays that we just can’t give up against Mililani.
HPW: I was surprised by the final numbers for your passing game. Hugh Brady passed for 290 yards and four TDs with no interceptions and it didn’t feel at all like he was 19 for 50.
Ane: You go into a game hoping to complete them all and reach the high standards of 65 percent that we’d like him to reach.
HPW: Watching the game and then again on my video, the coverage was mostly man and very tight most times.
Ane: Farrington has very physical players and good coverage.
HPW: Vincent Terrell and Sitiveni Kaufusi (combined 174 yards on 28 attempts) ran a lot of north-south with effectiveness. Were you surprised by the thunder-and-lightning ground game by your backs? It seems like your line played with a passion with all those run calls.
Ane: We give our love to our O-line and they do appreciate the running opportunities for Vince and Veni. It’s good to see both of them have opportunities. Vince is the jitterbug kid who makes them miss and Veni bounces off people, and they bounce off him when he lowers his shoulder.
HPW: I thought the call that really added momentum for Punahou was that old-school draw to Terrell. Like a shot out of a cannon. There were plenty of defenders in the area, but nobody expected that play, I guess.
Ane: The opening was there so we made the call. Vince doesn’t need a whole lot of room and he’s gone. That’s a quarterback’s best friend.
HPW: Who else do you feel stepped up in a game like this that was actually close (17-14) early in the third quarter?
Ane: Koa (Eldredge) had a great night receiving the ball, every one of his catches was a big play. (Eldredge finished with five receptions for 115 yards, two TDs.) Marist (Liufau) is very steady on defense. He’s everywhere. Freshman Teva (Tafiti, a defensive end) has been playing outstanding. He’s not overwhelmed with playing varsity football. He lines up, gets to the play, lines up again. No nonsense and just plays ball. He’s not the biggest kid, but he’s got big heart and you can count on those things. Kennedy (Freeman), now he thinks he’s going to get a TD every game, our NT, they’ve all been playing well.
HPW: We’re at a point in the season where normal wear-and-tear starts becoming a factor. Can’t really blame coaches who rest players with minor, but nagging injuries, particularly since the OIA is not counting games against ILH teams in the standings. But I haven’t seen that so far.
Ane: Watching the Mililani-Kamehameha game, it felt like they played their best guys. You never know, but it’s been very competitive and so that’s nice. It’s still early, but it’s working out well.
HPW: Every high school coach I know loves to compete, loves to push his or her team to a new level by playing the best possible opposition.
Ane: We’re all competitive and we all love to settle it on the field.
HPW: Going back to your O-line, I hate to say it, but they are playing superb football. It’s difficult to have the drive to improve when they’re playing this good.
Ane: They’d be the first to tell you they can improve. Every player can have a good game and we can go back to mistakes we made. That’s the nature of competitive people.
HPW: As a former NFL and Michigan State offensive lineman, how do you see Duke Clemens progressing at the next level?
Ane: Duke, it depends on how much weight he can put on without slowing down, but he’s going to be an outstanding college center. He’s got the right temperament and good athletic ability. It’s nice to have time to prepare for college. It’s nice to have space and time for our quarterback.
HPW: He’s been at center all season? That’s the one position where a lineman can get by without being extra tall. Duke at 6-4 is pretty tall.
Ane: Yes. At college, the center is the smallest guy at 6-4, 6-5. Other guys are 6-7 or taller.
HPW: He’s so good in basketball and baseball. Is he going to continue those sports and enjoy his senior year?
Ane: We hope he plays baseball and basketball.
HPW: Another guy who had a nice game last week was Tamatoa Falatea. It seemed like his timing with Hugh was on and off. He makes the tough catches look easy sometimes.
Ane: Tama is reliable, all four (receivers) give us a nice situation.
HPW: What can you say about Mililani?
Ane: There’s a bunch good players. Offensively, they’re explosive. Dillon (Gabriel) does a good job getting ball out. The O-line does a nice job pass blocking, run blocking. Defensively, they’ve got tough, athletic kids. It’s fun when you play them. They don’t back down.
HPW: What’s your recollection of those epic title games with Mililani in ’13 and 14?
Ane: The first memory is that we won (in ’13), a good memory. In those games, both teams were high scoring and back and forth. You had great players who are in college now. The next level of kids playing above their heads. Everybody was making plays, clutch plays. We just ran out of time. It was just great for both schools and all the fans. It was great theater.