The recipes may differ, but the underdogs in tonight’s semifinals of the Open Division in the First Hawaiian Bank/HHSAA State Championships are after the same reward.
While Campbell searches for a way to keep Kahuku’s smashmouth attack on the sideline, Mililani will do what it can to chew up the clock against Saint Louis. The last time the teams met, the No. 1-ranked Crusaders (10-0) stymied the Trojans 54-21 at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 27.
“You’ve got to remind them. They had that feeling when we beat them, but they have to understand this is a whole new ballgame,” said Saint Louis coach Cal Lee, whose team is three-time defending Open Division champion.
Mililani coach Rod York led his program to a state crown in 2014, and a D-I state title in ’16. Lee has guided Saint Louis to four state championships in addition to 14 Oahu Prep Bowl titles.
“What happened six, seven weeks ago, it’s all different now. Doesn’t matter how many losses any team has,” Lee said.
Saint Louis quarterback Jayden de Laura (3,073 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions) had just 18 pass attempts against the Trojans, his second-lowest total of the season, but five of his 11 completions went for touchdowns. Two of them went to slotback Koali Nishigaya (63 catches, 900 yards, eight TDs), who had five receptions. The de Laura-Nishigaya connection accounted for 263 of Saint Louis’ 378 yards through the air.
“Well, the possible No. 1 team, Ohio State, has offered him. That’s how good he is,” York said. “Look at the tape, he’s Houdini. Thought (former Saint Louis and current University of Hawaii quarterback) Chevan (Cordeiro) was slippery, this guy is slipperier. Slips out and gets a 30-yard gain when most guys would get sacked.”
It was a matter of calculated risk for Mililani’s defense, which actually limited Saint Louis to 3 yards rushing on 20 carries. Even the elusive de Laura finished with minus-11 rushing yards. Dealing with de Laura’s vision, arm strength and accuracy has confounded defenses all season long.
“The first game, we allowed too many big plays. A lot of them, we tried to go man-free, and the eyes were all over the place. Most of the passes they caught, the receivers Roman (Wilson) and Koali made some great catches. It wasn’t like they were wide open,” York added.
Mililani has the personnel in the trenches to match up with any team in the state. Linebackers Wynden Ho‘ohuli and Bam Amina are healthy, and defensive end Shane Kady could line up extremely wide again to contain de Laura.
Saint Louis sometimes countered with five-wide sets against Mililani’s three down linemen. It’s a pick-your-poison scenario against the nationally ranked Crusaders. Keep one spy in, and de Laura doesn’t hesitate to launch the deep ball to Michigan commit Wilson (43 receptions, 772 yards, eight touchdowns) or UCLA commit Matt Sykes (37, 680, seven).
In that regular-season meeting, Mililani quarterback Brendyn Agbayani (1,926 yards, 18 TDs, 17 INT) had his best night of the season in passing yardage with 270 plus three TDs. One of them was to former Crusaders running back Malosi Sam, which gave the Trojans a 14-13 lead midway through the first quarter, an edge they kept through the end of the quarter.
Mililani didn’t score again until the final 29 seconds. Agbayani was picked off twice and completed 21 of his 38 attempts. He found wide receiver Kanoa Gibson five times for 76 yards, and spread the ball around effectively at times.
Sam finished the game with 72 yards on 16 carries and added two catches for 10 yards with the TD. Can he do more in the rematch against a swarming defense led by linebackers Jordan Botelho and Nick Herbig, who is expected back after a one-game suspension? The interior will be plugged and clogged by inside linebackers Lawai Brown and Mason Tufaga.
Mililani’s relatively young offense — Sam and Agbayani are juniors — has been up and down, scoring 54 points against Kapolei and Farrington and a total of three points against Punahou and Kahuku.
“Our offense definitely has to come around, working so hard, simplifying things. We put in new plays where it should be easier for the quarterbacks and for the receivers,” York said.
The defensive unit has been magnificent, allowing just 17 points in that four-game span. They could use a little help, a little more rest in Saint Louis-Mililani II.
“I think they’d like to keep the ball away,” Lee said. “We have to be sure we stop their running game and cover their wideouts. They can throw the ball. We’ve got to take care of all aspects.”
Ranked No. 6 nationally, this could be one of the finest Crusaders teams ever, but Lee advises caution.
“They’ve got to finish. If they continue the way they’re going, then maybe we’ll see how good we compare,” said Lee, in his 27th season as a head coach. “But they’ve got to get there.”