ARCADIA, Calif. — If St. Monica football is going to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, they’ll have to be giant killers.
The Mariners face two-time defending champion Rio Hondo Prep on Friday and head coach Adam Guerra realizes it will be no easy task.
“They have that consistency of program,” Guerra said of the team that knocked his Mariners out of the semifinals of last year’s CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoffs. “It’s good and bad for us. Good that we know what they are going to do, bad because they’re going to do it anyway — and with effectiveness.”
The 3-7 Mariners snuck into the playoffs as an at-large team from the Santa Fe League despite their record. The 9-1 Rio Hondo Kares come in as the No. 2 seed behind Mission Prep.
If St. Monica is going to pull off the upset, Guerra knows a few things are going to have to go his team’s way.
“We have to stop their run and make them a passing team,” he said.
Rio Hondo has long been a run-first powerhouse, all the way back to its days of dominating eight-man football.
Running back Nate Tayco has been a horse for Rio Hondo all season. Quarterback Johnny Bolinger hasn’t been asked to pass much and Guerra would rather take his chances with that aspect of their offense.
Aside from living up to that tradition, it’s defending the crown that will be most difficult for the Kares.
Longtime Rio Hondo head coach Ken Drain has been driving that point home to his players all week.
Drain knows his team is a heavy favorite and sometimes that doesn’t bode well for a squad that may play down to an opponent.
“Their record isn’t very good, but they’ve played a tough schedule,” Drain said of St. Monica. “But, their record doesn’t indicate the quality of their team.”
After watching game films on St. Monica, Drain was impressed by the Mariners’ size on the offensive line. Despite a few mistakes here and there, Drain said that size may give his team fits.
Drain acknowledges that his team isn’t very big, so it will have to be scheme and individual performances that lead his Kares to victory.
“We have to keep them from running over us,” Drain said. “They execute their offense pretty well.”
St. Monica’s offense is led by sophomore quarterback Cameron Nuslein.
Since taking over for projected starter Chris Henderson just before the beginning of the season, Guerra has liked the underclassman’s ability to shake off adversity.
When things didn’t go the Mariners’ way early in the season, Guerra said his team would have the tendency of hanging their heads. As the season progressed he detected a more resilient tone from his boys.
“It’s good that [Nuslein] isn’t a rookie any more,” Guerra said. “It really makes a big difference when you go into this kind of situation.”
Friday’s game is at Rio Hondo Prep’s on-campus field. It begins at 7:30 p.m.