Trojans thrive on takeaways: 19 INTs so far

Mililani linebacker Palaie Gaoteote  forced Kapolei running back Ronald Young to fumble the ball earlier this year. Darryl Oumi / Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Mililani linebacker Palaie Gaoteote forced Kapolei running back Ronald Young to fumble the ball earlier this year. Darryl Oumi / Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Dick Tomey came to the University of Hawaii nearly four decades ago, a somber, authentic man who spoke his mind each week on his weekly show.

With a shortage of talent and depth, he turned a 3-8 team into a consistent winner. Special teams? He turned fans on to the joys of net punting yardage. Defense? Oh, he relished building a stingy unit. And often enough, he said this of the forward pass: “Three things happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are not good.”

That’s not an exact quote, of course, since I was a kid back then, not even in my teens yet. But that was the gist of it, and he coached with that mentality. And yet, even Tomey loosened the leash a little during his tenure. June Jones joined his staff. The Rainbows ran a balanced offense in time. They gained the formula — and QB talent — for upsetting, or at least competing with Top 20 teams like USC.

What does this have to do with Saturday’s Mililani-Moanalua game? Everything. The OIA Blue Division teams combined for 73 attempts, 560 yards and seven TDs through the passing game. They also had 38 incompletions and six INTs together.

The team with balance won. The team without a productive rushing attack didn’t.

Mililani (8-0, 7-0 league) is in a position where it can do as it pleases on the offensive side of the ball. Though it wasn’t their most productive game of the season, the Trojans still rolled up 486 total yards against a very stubborn Moanalua defense. Of the 486 yards, 276 came by air and 210 were on the ground. Coach Rod York called for 33 passes and 40 rushes.

Those numbers can overlap a bit since QB McKenzie Milton can turn just about any potential coverage sack into a 50-yard scramble to the house. Normally. On this night, Moanalua (3-4, 3-4) kept a giant blanket around the speedy junior and limited him to 23 rushing yards. Heck, Na Menehune even sacked him once, which is unheard of this fall.

But back to Tomey. He would’ve liked what Milton did: 20-for-33, three TD passes and just one pick.

Moanalua? Tomey would’ve wished for some balance, some ball security. Na Menehune had seven turnovers in all while Mililani had just one. Personnel situations being what they are — coach Jason Cauley said he had starting running backs out due to injury — this became another one of those mass aerial nights for Kawika Keama-Jacobe.

The good? Four TD passes, and he remained intact despite being sacked six times.
The bad? Five picks.

But in Moanalua’s defense (no pun intended), sending receivers downfield and letting Keama-Jacobe roam freely, he can keep his team in games no matter how tough the foe. That’s how they rallied from a huge margin last week to beat Kailua. Keama-Jacobe did it on Saturday with a Hail Mary-ish rocket that turned into a 55-yard TD pass to Michael Feliciano 11 seconds before halftime. Knocked down, right back up. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

• Takeaway masters. Mililani’s secondary already had 14 INTs coming into the game. Now it has 19. NINETEEN. That’s more picks than most teams have passing TDs.

The Trojans defensive unit, with those six sacks and five interceptions, would’ve killed it if there was high school fantasy football. Think of all those stat category points. It would’ve been even more if Alexi Christikoff had reached the end zone on his pick.

INT: Christikoff, Ty Apana-Purcell, Palaie Gaoteote, Tyrell Niuatoa, Greysen DeMello.
SAK: Kaimana Padello (3), Jaren Zadlo, Travis Seqovia, Chris Sampaga.

In all, the defense piled up major points in a fantasy world.

>> Allowed 21-27 points: -1
>> Sacks: 12 (six x 2)
>> Interception: 15 (five x 3)
>> Fumble recovery: 6 (two x 3)

That’s a healthy sum of 32 points for team defense. Yep, a winner.

One thing I like about Moanalua is, no matter how far behind they got after staying so close in the first half, Keama-Jacobe kept attacking. Jason Sharsh kept running his routes, and Keama-Jacobe found him three times for TDs.

Mililani did a credible job keeping Sharsh under wraps for most of the game. But in the second half, he caught everything that was catchable — sticky fingers like Fred Biletnikoff — and finished with eight catches for 96 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for 70 yards.

“We practiced hard this week. We had nothing to lose tonight. We look to the playoffs and do our best to get to the championship,” he said.

Sharsh was effective last year as a junior, catching passes from Micah Kaneshiro. This season, even after missing two games due to a back injury, he’s been remarkable: 36 receptions, 632 yards, eight TDs.

• So good, it looks easy. Milton’s passing total yardage may have seemed low, but it was actually 3 yards above his season average. It was his rushing yardage total that was modest. Only once did Milton have a rushing total of less than 88 yards (22 yards, TD, vs. Kailua). But the numbers were still impressive: 301 total yards, four TDs. Only a few QBs could rack up 301 yards from scrimmage and have fans wonder why he didn’t have a great game.

• Why Vae? Vavae Malepeai cracked the 20-carry mark for the third week in a row, and though 21 carries doesn’t sound like an overly busy night, Malepeai was a machine. There were several plays when he would either drag tacklers across the field, run through tacklers, or do both.

In addition to his 122 rushing yards and 27 receiving yards, he returned a punt 27 yards. His first reception was Mililani’s version of a Hail Mary, a short pass that he turned into a cutback, right sideline all the way to the left, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 missed tackles before he was finally corralled after a 21-yard gain.

• How deep is this well? With WR Kainoa Wilson still out (collarbone) and Kalakaua Timoteo playing through a shoulder injury, Milton had his eyes all over the field. He threw passes to six different teammates in the first half, and by game’s end, he threw to 10 different Trojans. Par for the course. As always, the Trojans continue to give what the defense offers. Case in point: he went deep to starters and reserves alike without bias. Roman Tovi was opportunistic in solo coverage; he scored on a 32-yard bomb. The target chart:

>> Bronson Ramos: 3 receptions, 84 yards, TD (seven targets)
>> Joshua Butac: 3-9 (six)
>> Luani Matagiese: 2-24 (four)
>> Bryson Ventura: 2-11 (three)
>> Kalakaua Timoteo: 1-7 (one)
>> Tovi: 4-56, TD (five)
>> Malepeai: 2-27 (two)
>> Isaiah Manding: 1-4 (two)
>> Nick Culp: 1-18 (one)
>> Chad Senas: 1-36, TD (one)

The Moanalua target chart wasn’t as varied.

>> Sharsh: 8-96, 3 TD (12 targets)
>> Isaiah Jackson: 1-(minus 5) (three)
>> Steve Feliciano: 6-71 (10)
>> Karson Cruz: 2-27 (seven)
>> M. Feliciano: 5-95, TD (seven)

• Riverboat gamblers. York plays his odds and isn’t afraid to go for it on fourth down quite often. Cauley is cut from the same cloth, so to speak. In the first half, he had his team go for it on fourth and 1 at the Moanalua 49. Keama-Jacobe connected by air with Michael Feliciano for a first down, but moments later, Moanalua gave the ball back on a sack and fumble.

Cauley and his team have the playoffs to prepare for.

“We’ve got to get healthy first. We’ve got our starting running backs, H-backs, they’re banged up. We’ve got to look at the film, see where we can get better from here. We’ll probably play Kaiser next week in Hawaii Kai. Hopefully, we can get a good game out of that,” he said.

• So long, summer. The varsity game went on without a hitch and weather was mostly dry and cool. But three hours earlier, a big downpour laced with thunder led officials to stop the JV game late in the first quarter. After a 20-minute “rain delay,” they decided to end it due to severe weather. The risk was certainly there.

Of course, after the cancellation was announced, the weather gradually improved. The thunder claps were no more. The JV players for both teams probably wondered why their game was cut short. The odds of lightning injuring (or killing) anyone at the stadium were probably very, very low, but if you wore the white hat, the weight of responsibility is immeasurable. Safety first.

True blue. Moanalua fans waiting out the JV game rain delay.
True blue. Moanalua fans waiting out the JV game rain delay.


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