It was a weekend of hypnotic, thrilling football.
There was mostly tight, down-to-the-wire play in the Division I and D-II state tournaments. But in the Oahu Interscholastic Association D-I championship game, Mililani came so, so close. A 21-7 lead dissipated. A 31-28 lead vanished. Kahuku (10-1) won its third league title in a row with a dramatic 35-31 victory on Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.
Rod York, the Trojans’ coach, was stoked by his team’s effort. He was less than happy with his own performance, even after Mililani (10-1) gave Kahuku its toughest challenge in OIA play.
“I need to do a better job of coaching. I didn’t do a good enough job,” York said.
>> A fumble recovery that led to a 7-0 lead — Dillon Gabriel’s 15-yard TD pass to Josiah Sampaga
>> Power running between the tackles, especially by Jalen Tuivaiave-Olomua, who scored Mililani’s second TD.
>> Ryan Chang’s 49-yard TD haul from Gabriel gave the Trojans a 21-7 lead.
>> A swarming Mililani defense that limited Kahuku to 122 rushing yards.
>> Kahuku took advantage of a short field after Gabriel’s third-and-15, quick-kick punt, scoring in the final minute of the first half to cut the margin to seven points (21-14). Kahuku then scored on its opening series of the second half.
>> After a number of non-calls regarding ineligible-man-downfield violations, York was seething when his team was whistled for one. It was enough to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, very rare for York, let alone any coach.
“The officials did a hell of a job. They caught some stuff and they didn’t catch some stuff. I thought the crew was really good,” York said. “I’m seeing some penalties and they’re not even calling it, guys eight, 10 yards down field and they didn’t call it, but that’s all part of the game. Credit Kahuku, man, they played a helluva game. They showed heart. They earned it, and we made too many mistakes, and that’s on me.”
Gabriel, a junior, passed for 297 yards and three TDs with one pick. He completed 60 percent of his 45 pass attempts. Kahuku limited Mililani to 73 rushing yards (22 attempts).
“You go back to what kind of defense Kahuku has,” York said. “We didn’t just play a defense. We played a defense that gives up 4 points a game, gave up just 17 points to the No. 10-ranked team in the nation, Bingham. Coach Makoa (Freitas) did a great job getting his boys ready. We’ll be back.”
Conversely, Kahuku ran the ball 29 times at 4.2 yards per rush. Mililani’s physicality was apparent in the first half, which activated the Kahuku passing attack. Sol-Jay Maiava finished with 248 passing yards and two TD tosses.
“I didn’t get my boys ready. We’ll get the team ready, regroup, get back to the lockerroom and set our minds right,” York said.
By finishing second, the Trojans are slotted into a matchup with Saint Louis in next weekend’s Division I-Open semifinals of the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA Football State Championships.
“It’s playoff time. It’s crunch time. That’s why we love it and wanted to be in it,” York said. “Even though we lost, our kids left it on the field and gave it everything they had. When you play a team like Kahuku, you’ve got to play good. I’ve got to do a better job.”
The top-ranked Crusaders, who have been idle since sealing the ILH crown two weeks ago, have some doubters. Can the defending state champions be effective without having a dominant ground attack? Maybe it’s a question that has no substance in an era of spread formations and accurate QBs like Gabriel and Maiava, who are more than willing to fire seven-yard strikes on third-and-6.
“Saint Louis, they’re strong as ever. They’re ranked No. 1 for a reason,” York said. “I would love to see them play Bishop Gorman this year. They’re doing a helluva job. They’re smashing everybody.”