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Prep Football Preview Special
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveFebruary 10, 2024, 6:42am
Fri, Feb 9, 2024 @ Waipio
WAIPAHU — Mililani will try for lucky No. 7 Saturday night.
A pair of second-half goals lifted the top-ranked Trojans to a 2-0 win over No. 3 Punahou in the semifinals of the Motiv8 Foundation/HHSAA Division I Boys Soccer State Championships Friday.
A crowd of about 800 fans at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex saw Mililani, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, secure its spot in Saturday's title game, where it will try for seventh state crown in program history.
The Trojans (15-0) will play top-seeded and second-ranked Iolani (11-0-2) in the 7 p.m. championship match at the Waipio main stadium.
Mililani reached the title game a year ago, but lost to the Raiders in penalty kicks.
"Well, we feel like we didn't finish off what we were supposed to last year, so good work for us this year," Trojans coach Steve McGehee said.
The heartbreak of last year's state final is never far from the team's collective memory, McGehee shared.
"The good part about it is I had 18 (players) returning from last year and they all were there and they all saw what happened, so for them, they know. They've had that in their mind from the end of last year til now — they know what they need to do, they know what job they have to finish," McGehee said. "I keep reminding the boys they have a job, ‘Everyone has a job, do your job.' That's all we ask."
After a tightly-contested first half, McGehee's squad strung things together offensively in the second.
Mililani orchestrated a counterattack in the 43rd minute that led to a shot by Caleb Ishizaka, but his shot missed over the goal. A few minutes after Ishizaka's chance, Tyler Cole Tamashiro stole a Buffanblu pass and pushed it ahead to Kai Martin. Martin took a couple of touches up the left flank before he fired a right-footed shot from about 20 yards out that missed just wide right of the frame.
The Trojans finally broke through in the 54th minute on a goal in the run of play by Skyler Vail.
Vail's goal began with a throw-in from the far side of the field by Elijah Kuni. Funtanilla's toss went toward the front post, where Maumausolo Uiagalelei flicked it with his head to the back post toward Vail, who put away the opportunity with his right foot for a one-timer.
"It was one of our set plays that we had throughout the season. The ball was going to the (front) post and I was sitting on top of the box and I saw the space behind that back post and I ran in and the ball came through and I hit it," Vail said of his team-leading 14th goal on the year.
"(Uiagalelei) flicked it on, it was a good pace on the ball. It was bouncing but I knew how to hit down on the ball to get it in," Vail noted.
Punahou first-year coach Hugo Gutierrez said the Trojans are particularly dangerous when the ball in hand on restarts.
"They play very similar to us, so it makes it a good match for us. When you talk about specific things that they do well, I think that their throw-ins are really, really dangerous and that's how they got us," Gutierrez said.
Vail, one of 13 seniors on the team, agreed with Gutierrez's assessment.
"I feel like it helps our team a lot when we want to get in the box fast, we can play long throw-ins with Kalen (Toguchi) or Mau (Uiagalelei); We don't always have to play fast down the line, but we can play in the box," Vail said.
McGehee disclosed that the Trojans haven't had to utilize throw-ins to set-up scoring chances until recently.
"It was kind of just something we brought out the last part of the season. We didn't have the time — well, I wouldn't say the time — we didn't put much effort into it beforehand because we just didn't get competition levels that we needed. We were able to kind of walk through games without using it," McGehee said.
Not long after the Trojans scored, however, the Buffanblu nearly equalized.
In the 54th minute, a foul against Mililani gave Punahou a free kick from about 40 yards out. Nakatsu took the free kick, which found its way to William Ruotola on the back post. Ruotola put a solid strike on the ball, but it hit the crossbar and resulted in a goal kick for the Trojans.
"It shows that both teams had the opportunity to win this game and whenever we had the chance to put the ball in — sometimes when you miss on the other side, if they're gonna get the chance, they're probably gonna put it in, so that's what happened to us," Gutierrez lamented. "We tried, created opportunities, couldn't score, they go the opposite way and they were able to maximize their scoring."
The Trojans doubled up their lead in the 71st minute. Kai Martin sent a cross with his left foot inside the 6-yard box and Toguchi, who was on the receiving end, was able to just get his right foot on the ball and poke it into the right side of the goal.
"We didn't really change much," McGehee said of his halftime adjustments. "We just made some slight corrections in telling the boys what to be looking for and then we just put ‘em under. We just worked really, really hard and we got at ‘em and they're a great team, you can't give them any time, any space or they'll eat you up."
Vail said that the play of Mililani's midfield was key to the final result.
"Our coach told us to calm down. We needed our mids to collect the ball and move around so we had more control of the game and when our mids did that we had the momentum," Vail said.
Gutierrez, whose team had allowed eight goals on the year coming into the match, credited the Trojans for finishing on both of their goals.
"I think when you have both teams going hard and trying to score, you're going to have to be weaker on one side, stronger on another side, so we were trying to balance it out. Unfortunately, it didn't work for us and they did a great job," Gutierrez said.
The Buffanblu manufactured a quality chance in just the ninth minute. Jack Maretski served a cross into the box that was met by Jedidiah Griffin, but Griffin's shot was wide left.
In the 15th minute, a Mililani foul gave Punahou a free kick from about 50 yards out. Jake Nakatsu put the direct kick on frame and forced a leaping two-handed deflection by goalkeeper Maddox Flanders.
Nakatsu served a corner kick to the back post in the 26th minute that eventually was headed on goal by Lonokaehu Tuitele, but Parker Patterson got in the way of it to save a goal.
Mililani had an opportunity late in the first half. Tayeden Lau connected a pass to Merrick Tambio, who flicked it to Kai Martin, but Martin's shot — as he slipped — missed wide right of the goal.
The Buffanblu recorded six shots on goals — three in each half — while the Trojans tallied all four of its shots on goal after the intermission.
Mililani's goalkeeping duo of Maddox Flanders (three saves) and Kobi Miyamoto (two saves) turned in clean sheet — the team's 13th shut out this season.
"Both (Flanders) and (Miyamoto) have been huge all season long and we analyze every game, every competition, every competitor we're against and we figure out what we need to do, so sometimes it may be one kid versus another," McGehee said. "There's very few kids that have their name etched into this lineup and the boys have to respect that."
The Trojans showcased their quality of depth with no fewer than 25 substitutions over the course of the match. Both goal scorers Friday night came off the bench.
"That's exactly what it is. We can swap out several of the boys and you get quality throughout and that's kind of what we wanted to do was stay balanced with our lines out there, not do line changes that we've done throughout the year because we need to respect the competition we're here against now — they're here for a reason, so are we," McGehee said.
Aslan Chong recorded two saves in goal for the Buffanblu, who were seeking their first appearance in a state final since 2020, when they won the last of their record 22 state championships.
Punahou had lost in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament in each of the past two years.
Mililani, which has allowed only two goals all season, captured its last state title in 2015.
The Buffanblu (10-2-2) will play No. 4 Baldwin (12-1-1) for third place Saturday, 3 p.m. at Field No. 5.
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