Kalani Takase | ScoringLive
October 29, 2015, 3:52pm
For the third time in four seasons and the second year in a row, Mililani and Kahuku will face off for bragging rights in Oahu Interscholastic Association.
The second-ranked Trojans (9-1) and the third-ranked Red Raiders (10-0) will serve as the nightcap in Friday's championship doubleheader at Hawaiian Airlines Field at Aloha Stadium, following the Division II final at 5 p.m. between Radford and Kaimuki.
It will be a rematch of last year's title game, which the Trojans won, 20-7, en route to their first state championship.
"I think because it's Kahuku our kids are listening and to be honest, we've had the best practices we've had all of a sudden," Mililani coach Rod York said. "We don't normally have good practices. The kids kind of get it that they have to listen and execute not just on Friday."
Mililani is still without starting quarterback McKenzie Milton, who has missed the last three weeks due to a shoulder injury.
"He's not cleared yet, but it looks good; He's running and throwing," York said of Milton, last year's All-Hawaii Division I Offensive Player of the Year. "He will be back in states, we're just not sure which week. Other than that we're as good as we can be. Everybody is ready to go."
Freshman Dillon Gabriel (555 pass yards, 7 TDs, 0 INTs) has assumed the quarterbacking duties in Milton's absence and is coming off his best performance in last week's semifinal win over Waianae. Gabriel threw for 297 yards with four touchdowns on 14-of-23 passing.
"He's not turning the ball over, he's moving the ball and he's getting it to the open guy and helping lead us to the win, so he's doing pretty good," York said. "This week is a different week because this is Kahuku and they will definitely be the best defense that we've gone up against."
That's not an exaggeration by any means out of York's mouth. The statistics back the Red Raiders' defensive dominance.
They have shutout five opponents this year and have allowed just 32 total points (3.2 per game). Offenses are averaging just 120 yards per game, including an anemic 8.7 rushing yards.
"On defense, they're athletic, they're fast and they tackle really well," York said. "People don't talk about the fact that their defense doesn't normally miss tackles. They're going to be tough, for sure."
Kahuku will be lining up against a Mililani offensive unit that averages 56.5 points and 530 yards per contest.
"All we need to do is take care of our alignment, our assignment and execute at the highest level defensively," Red Raiders' coach Vavae Tata said. "Hats off to Mililani, they're the defending champions and we're going to try to hold them off for four quarters."
Running back Vavae Malepeai (1,467 rush yards, 31 total TDs) has increased his workload since Milton's injury. In Mililani's last three games, Malepeai has carried 64 times for 657 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 10.3 yards per carry.
"We've faced a lot of running backs this year, like (Farrington's Challen) Faamatau last week and then (Kaiser's Jensen McDaniel) earlier in the season, so we've faced a lot of teams that was either the No. 1 rushing team that week or the No. 1 passing team, but we've shown that we're battle-tested," Tata said.
The Red Raiders will also have to contend with All-Hawaii First Team wide receiver Kalakaua Timoteo (51 catches, 1,069 receiving yards, 18 TDs), who is coming off a career-best 199 receiving yards with two touchdowns on eight grabs last week.
"I can't wait for the opportunity for our players to face a high-powered offense like Mililani and the explosive players that they have," Tata said.
Kahuku's offense has been no slouch either, averaging 46 points and 303 yards per game, including 268 via a punishing ground game. Kesi Ah-Hoy (986 rush yards-15 TDs-7.1 yards per rush), Sefa Ameperosa (709-8-8.0) and Harmon Brown (608-12-9.5) headline a stable of powerful backs.
"The obvious thing about Kahuku is they have a very strong run game, to where they basically ran everyone over," York said. "It's not that tough to prepare for — because everything they do is simple — but it's a matter of being able to stop it and execute on Friday night, when it counts."
The Red Raiders also have a pair of wildcards on special teams in placekicker Kekoa Sasaoka and returner Keala Santiago. In last week's semifinal win over Farrington, Sasaoka was 3 of 3 on field goals, including a career-long 45-yarder, and Santiago scored on an 87-yard punt return.
The teams also met for the OIA championship back in 2012, which Kahuku won by a score of 50-13.
The Trojans are seeking their third straight league crown and fourth overall. The Red Raiders will try for their 24th title and first since winning back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012.