PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mililani running back Kekoa Perbera, front, leads the OIA Red West in rushing thanks to the help of his blockers: Kenneth Peneku, left, Shane Um, Chevas Antoque, Caleb Alaelua and Brandon Dela Cruz in the front row and Micah Kia, left, David Otani and Tyson Nishihara in the back row. The Trojans are 4-0 in league play, 5-1 overall.
Trojan line still tough despite injuries
Injuries have their effect on all football teams, but the Mililani Trojans know full well that their timing can be lethal.
In the middle of their state-tournament playoff game against Lahainaluna last year, safety Aaron Pooloa went down with a serious knee injury. The dependable senior stalwart wasn't able to return, and the Trojans suffered a heartbreaking 41-34 loss, ending what had been a nearly flawless season.
When this season began, blue-chip offensive lineman Micah Kia was the next to fall. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound left tackle, who has drawn serious interest from many prominent Division I schools, suffered a broken tibia in late August. Shortly after that, left guard Clement Maeda went down with a season-ending foot injury.
The loss of two experienced linemen cast a shadow of doom over the extremely young Trojans. With just four returning starters on each side of the ball, it would've been easy for the team's brigade of underclassmen to let up. Instead, they stepped up.
"That meant more work for us to do, but we try to prepare everybody. If Micah was there, nobody would've gotten those reps," said Trojans coach James Millwood, in his 12th season at the helm. "We've been trying two, three people at those spots, so we learned a lot about what they can do.
"I told them after Micah got hurt that I'm gonna be real hard on them because we need them to play well now. They answered the challenge."
Four weeks into the Oahu Interscholastic Association regular season, the Trojans are unbeaten at 4-0. They're ranked seventh in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 (5-1 overall) and have shown a knack for winning tough games.
The Trojans get another daunting task on Saturday when they visit arch rival Leilehua. Kickoff at Hugh Yoshida Stadium is 25 minutes after the completion of the junior varsity game, which starts at 4 p.m.
Mililani has done well under duress, pulling out close wins over Red West contenders Waianae and Kapolei. The Hurricanes, in particular, have more team speed, but it was Mililani that played with more poise, making fewer mental errors. It was Mililani that knew exactly how to grind out yardage in crunch time behind an offensive line that has matured rapidly.
Millwood, a former standout lineman at Mililani, credited his linemen for anchoring the Trojans. This has been a season of strength for the Red West, a sea change in the OIA's power base. But the Trojans continue to thrive.
Center Chivas Antoque (5-9, 240) is a cornerstone, as is right tackle Brandon Dela Cruz (6-1, 230). The two juniors sandwich the two-headed tandem at right guard -- Caleb Alaelua (6-3, 330) and David Otani (6-0, 250).
On the left side, Shane Um (5-10, 210) made the adjustment to guard. Kenneth Peneku (6-2, 220) took over at tackle in Kia's spot. Peneku is versatile, while Um started last year as a sophomore. The Trojans go eight deep with their O-line rotation, and Kia has already returned to action.
Kia was in on seven plays last week against Kapolei. "He's at about 75 percent. He's hobbling on it," Millwood said. "We don't want to push him."
In fact, Kia could move to guard when he gets more playing time. If not, Peneku will move to beef up other positions. Whatever the case, Kia's return is a major boost to an already proven unit. Year after year, the Trojans continue to be consistent. They haven't lost a Red West game in more than two years, operating out of Millwood's Slot I package of power and play-action deception.
"The coaches worked real hard on them about the basics, first steps, all the way back from spring ball through the summer," he said of the O-line. "Getting off the ball, staying low, pad level and all that kind of stuff. Instead of schemes and telling them who to block, we try to tell them what we feel is important for offensive linemen."
Connecting mentally has been a real strength for this group. O-line coaches Quinton Peralto and James Hall bring old- and new-school thought to the field. Peralto is a 1970 Radford graduate; Hall is a '96 Saint Louis alum.
"One's old, one's young. Both their philosophies work well together," Millwood said. "The players like playing for their coaches. Their coaches communicate well with them, demand a lot from them, but you can feel and see the mutual respect."
The superlative play up front has meant big yardage for senior running back Kekoa Perbera. The 5-11, 185-pound senior has rushed for 385 yards and six touchdowns in four OIA Red West games.
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High school football
Konawaena at Kamehameha-Hawaii, 6 p.m.; Honokaa at Hilo, 7 p.m.
ILH: Punahou vs. Damien at Punahou, 3:15 p.m.
KIF: Kapaa vs. Kauai at Vidinha Stadium, JV begins at 5 p.m., varsity begins at 7:30 p.m.
MIL: Lahainaluna vs. Pac-Three at War Memorial Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
OIA Red East: Farrington at Kailua, Kahuku at Roosevelt, games begin 25 minutes after end of 5 p.m. JV game.
OIA Red West: Kapolei vs. Waianae at Mililani, 7 p.m.; Nanakuli at Aiea, game begins 25 minutes after end of 5 p.m. JV game.
OIA White: Kalaheo at Radford, Waialua at Moanalua, Kalani at Kaiser, games begin 25 minutes after end of 5 p.m. JV game.
Ka'u at Hawaii Prep, Waiakea at Kohala, 2 p.m.; Keaau at Kealakehe, 7 p.m.
ILH: Pac-Five vs. Saint Louis, 4:30 p.m., Kamehameha vs. Iolani, 7:30 p.m., Aloha Stadium.
MIL: Maui at King Kekaulike, Kamehameha-Maui vs. Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
OIA Red East: Kaimuki vs. McKinley at Kaiser, game begins 25 minutes after end of 4 p.m. JV game.
OIA Red West: Mililani at Leilehua, game begins 25 minutes after end of 4 p.m. JV game.