He’s been at this life-sized version of human chess for some time.
Rod York has a practically all-new starting lineup at Mililani, and though some long-time Trojan fans will admit they’re surprised that their team is still unbeaten after three games, they do know this: the 2016 men of Troy are well prepared.
After hanging on for a 31-28 win over No. 7 Farrington on Saturday night, York could only think about the miscues. About sitting down with his staff late into the night to dissect the game tape.
So many things to fix, so little time. And yet, so much was done so well by a group of players who sank their teeth into the possibility of greatness back when they were middle-school aged Trojans with Mill Vill in year-round leagues.
Their commitment at a young age is a key factor in Mililani’s performance, just one season removed from the amazing senior seasons of seniors McKenzie Milton, Kalakaua Timoteo and Vavae Malepeai. And even when the young Trojans make their mistakes, they recover.
Dillon Gabriel, their second-year QB, starting as a sophomore — resilience personified. He overcame three first-half interceptions, masterfully steering the Trojans downfield for two key drives late in the game, capping them each time with the perfect zone read on the option.
But it was also York’s gamesmanship that belied the typical numbers. Early in each half, he opted to burn time outs, hitting the reset button defensively after seeing some issues. He went into the final several minutes of the game without a single time out left. Farrington had all three.
For a key stretch early in the second half, York and his staff had the Trojans go to “zero coverage”, no safety deep over the middle of the field. Instead, they had single coverage on wideouts Kingston Moses-Sanchez and Mosi Alaivanu-Afe. York may have guessed that the Governors would make it a point to ground and pound, to set the tone for the rest of the game.
That tactic worked.
“It worked until later,” York said.
But it worked. Farrington managed to tie the game as QB Bishop Rapoza found his comfort zone and brought the Govs to a 14-all tie during the third quarter. But the Govs also came up empty on three of their first four possessions of the second half. Mililani did nearly all it could to contain big-play RB Challen Faamatau (58 yards, 21 carries).
Eventually, Alaivanu-Afe (seven receptions, 83 yards, two TDs) came up with huge scoring plays to keep the visitors close, but York had done enough. They bought some time, forcing Farrington out of a comfort zone of its own. The early time outs. The zero coverage. All the little things seen and unseen, York and his staff aren’t quite pulling rabbits out of their hats, but they’re certainly coaching the heck out of one of the younger teams in the OIA.
“Farrington played a heckuva game,” he said.
So did Mililani’s pups. Talent is one thing. Being willing to be utilized any way possible on a gridiron chess board is another. Replacing Malepeai (USC), Timoteo (Hawaii) and Milton (UCF) isn’t the goal. Filling the void is. They’re doing it with two RBs, Kailiohu Kila (60-yard TD run) and Jalen Olomua, who combined for 163 rushing yards.
Wide receiver/backup QB Cy Kuboyama-Hayashi (six receptions, 101 yards) wasn’t even targeted until late in the first half. Six of his teammates had seen passes come their way before he got a whiff, but from that point, he was Mr. Reliable for Gabriel. Of Gabriel’s final 12 pass attempts, five went in the direction of Kuboyama-Hayashi. In all, he snagged the ball six times in six targets.
Any pass catcher who averages more than 7 yards per target is valuable, but 101 yards on six looks?
York is more than right. Farrington played a wonderful game. Mililani’s youth brigade simply has had more time to prepare. Next up for the sixth-ranked Trojans: Kapolei.