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Trojans hold off Crusaders in first Friday Night game of season

Saturday, August 6, 2022 | By Nick Abramo

Mililani coach Rod York downplayed the significance of Friday night’s dominant 28-7 home victory over Saint Louis as soon as he had the chance.

After the postgame handshake line, York said, “It was preseason, man. So you know one thing about it, we made a lot of mistakes because of Saint Louis. That’s why we play a team like Saint Louis because Saint Louis will always bring the best out of you.”

Let it be known that the word preseason (also known as nonleague) is another way of saying it was a get-ready-for-the-league matchup. But this game — a rematch of the Crusaders’ 27-25 state Open semifinal win in 2021— was every bit of a real contest.

And while the Trojans (1-0) owned the momentum pretty much from beginning to end, Saint Louis was well within striking distance and threatened multiple TIMES. It wasn’t until the midway mark of the third quarter when Mililani began to pull away from what had been slim leads of 7-0 and 14-7.

In the end, one statistic succinctly tells the story — 11 sacks. All night long, with the help of lockdown coverage by their defensive backs, the Trojans’ front seven hounded Crusaders quarterbacks Kahi Graham and Oha Kamakawiwoole, flushing them from the pocket and making them scramble even when they weren’t putting them on the ground.

“I feel like it’s definitely a good way to start off season,” Trojans cornerback Gavin Hunter, a team captain, said. “All the work we’ve been putting in, it showed tonight. Our coaches did a very good job preparing us. We trusted the work we’ve been putting in, trusted our coaches and came out and it was a good team win working together.”

Two more telling stats: the Crusaders lost three second half fumbles, and Mililani outgunned Saint Louis in scrimmage yards, 351-196

After falling behind 7-0, the Crusaders (0-1) began to push back. Unfortunately for the visitors, Mililani thwarted four sustained drives deep into Trojans territory, starting in the first quarter when they got to the Mililani 8 before Graham was pummeled on a combined sack by Elias Tania and Elton Su’e and then again on Kamaehu Roman’s solo sack.

Photo by Grant Shishido

And just before halftime while trailing 14-0, Saint Louis got as far as the Mililani 19 before the thud of two Jabiel Lauvao’s game-high four sacks. 

Then, on their first possession of the third quarter, the Crusaders got to the Trojans’ 22 before a fumble caused by Mililani’s Roman that was pounced on by teammate Elijah Nua.

Later, with the Trojans holding a 21-7 lead, Nua was at it again, recovering another Saint Louis fumble, this time in his own end zone on a ball jarred loose by Lauvao while the Crusaders were trying to punch it in from the 4-yard line.

There’s no question that the Mililani offense was humming, too, prompting Crusaders coach Ron Lee to say that unit looked like it was in midseason form.

Earlier, just 3:17 into the game, speedster Raymond Roller and quarterback Kini McMillan got the crowd at John Kauinana Stadium revved up, combining on a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown to draw first blood.

Hunter, who goes both ways, made it 14-0, beating a defender one-on-one on the right sideline for a 21-yard TD catch from McMillan early in the second quarter.

McMillan threw his third and fourth TD passes of the game, one each in the third and fourth quarters — a 76-yarder to Davyn Joseph and a 29-yarder to Andrew Manivong Jr.

It might be easy to forget judging by the final 21-point margin, but Saint Louis was still very much in it well past halftime, thanks in part to Titan Lacadem, whose 3-yard TD catch on a pass from Kamakawiwoole made it 14-7 at the break.

“We’ve got a new team with a lot of young players,” Saint Louis linebacker Iona Purcell said. “It’s just the little mistakes. But Mililani came out firing today.”

Defensively, for the Crusaders, Julian Savaiianaea came through with two tackles for losses, including two sacks.

Exacerbating the pressure caused by the Mililani defenders, Saint Louis’ Lee thought it was also a matter of his QBs not getting rid of the ball fast enough.

“They missed a lot of key reads,” he said. “They were breaking out of the pocket rather than stepping up. A lot of bad snaps. A lot of things. We had those (four) opportunities. Some bad plays and fumbles. We had guys open, but we didn’t hit ‘em. We just gotta put it together.”

Saint Louis will try to get back on the winning track next Saturday against reigning Division II state champion Kapaa — now classified in D-I — on the Garden Island. Mililani hosts California’s Mission Viejo on Friday.

Photos by Grant Shishido

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