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Junior first-string quarterback Mathew Partyka backs up to pass during Saint Monica High School's varsity football practice at Airport Park on Thursday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

ST. BERNARD — It has been a while since St. Monica could even contemplate a two-win season.

Times surely have changed for the Mariners who head into a matchup against Lucerne Valley at St. Bernard High School tonight looking for a second win in only the fourth game of the season. Quite a change for a team who spent the better part of the last four seasons searching for one win.

Both teams come into the non-league matchup nursing 1-2 records, but performance against a common foe has St. Monica in the position of favorite. St. Monica easily dispatched Animo Leadership 31-0 earlier this season. Lucerne Valley, on the other hand, lost to Animo 7-13 last week.

Those results give St. Monica Head Coach Larry Muno reason to be optimistic, but he knows better than to overlook this week’s opponent.

“They do some tricky stuff offensively,” Muno said of Lucerne Valley. “They have some good running schemes that are difficult to pick up.”

Muno said he’s impressed by Lucerne Valley’s quirky offense that slightly favors the run over the pass.

“They are big up front and they present a problem,” Muno said.

Lucerne Valley Head Coach Chris Klinger said that his offense resembles St. Monica’s, but said that his squad has a long way to go before they can be considered as proficient as the Mariners’ unit.

“We came and watched (St. Monica) play,” Klinger said. “They like to throw the ball everywhere.”

Klinger was particularly impressed with St. Monica junior quarterback Matthew Partyka and his ability to spread the ball around to a number of talented wide receivers.

“When you’re looking at a team like them,” Klinger said, “I didn’t see any one weapon above anyone else.

“They have a strong corps of receivers.”

That group of pass catchers, which includes Danny White and Kyle Farber, performed well in last week’s loss to Laguna Beach despite the fact the Mariners were playing without leading receiver Sam Holguin, who broke his ankle the previous week and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Muno too sees the passing game as his team’s best chance to win the game. He doesn’t expect to tinker much with the offense and is going to let the team go as far as Partyka can take them.

St. Monica’s passing game is formidable enough to make Klinger hope that the Mariners run the ball up the middle toward his team’s most dominant unit. Middle linebackers Dylan Cooper and Ruben Navarro present a difficult challenge for any St. Monica ball carrier who decides to run at them.

Muno said he has no plans to run the ball any more than usual, but did admit that the size of Lucerne Valley’s line and linebackers is something to reckon with.

“They run a unique defense that forces you to run the ball inside,” Muno said. “It presents a problem.”