Defense Leads The Way As Mililani Looks Toward Playoffs

Mililani head coach Rod York loves game night as much as his players, but the veteran coach has a deeper affection for the days that lead up to the game. The teacher in him is always best displayed on those days.

“For us, it all starts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” said York. “I’m not worried about the game if we’ve practiced the way we need to practice during the week. I can always tell on Wednesday if we’re ready or not. Last week was a great week, and this week has been even better.”

The Trojans are hitting the stretch run of their OIA Red West season, and they’re definitely on “upset alert” this week as they visit Aiea for a key matchup.

The team is mindful, after all, that Aiea defeated the only team Mililani had lost to heading into last weekend — that being Leilehua.

Much attention has been focused on its offense to date, given Mililani’s explosiveness, led by senior triggerman Jarin Morikawa.

But the defense has been nothing less than stout so far, especially the front seven, who are yielding just over 70 rushing yards per outing.

York already was convinced coming out of spring practice that he would have a first-rate secondary, and the unit of Beau Winchester, Kainoa Souza-Paaluhi, Ian Namu and Bronson Kaleinamoku-Chun has lived up to all expectations.

The play of the front seven (linebackers Dayton Furuta, Mike Atuaia and Jacob Afele and linemen Mene Perese, Dakota Turner, Rex Manu and KK Padello) has more than solidified the unit as one of the best in the state as a whole.

“(Defensive coordinator) Roland Mason has been doing a great job,” said York. “We’re leading the league in takeaways (12).

There are only two statistics that really matter to me. No. 1 is getting the win, and No. 2 is winning the turnover battle, which we’ve done in every game that we’ve won. The only game that we didn’t win the turnover battle was the game we lost (to Leilehua).”

Even so, York liked the way the Trojans responded following that loss. After a spirited week of practice, Mililani came back six days later to post a huge road win over Campbell before entering its bye week.

“It’s about getting better every day, and this team has been doing that. Every game in the West is tough. This is one of the toughest leagues.”

Mililani entered last weekend’s game with Kapolei still tied for the lead in the Red West with Leilehua. The Trojans are focused on receiving one of the league’s top two seeds for the OIA playoffs, which would mean having a bye for the first round.

“We definitely want to be in the top two (in the Red West),” said York. “With a bye, you get to scout the next opponent you’re going to play.”