PANORAMA CITY — A team in rebuilding mode often sees big matchups with elite teams as a hill too high to climb. For St. Monica Head Coach Larry Muno it’s an opportunity to see where his football team stands and, perhaps, make a little history along the way.
“If we beat them,” Muno said, “it will be the school’s greatest upset ever.”
Heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. Santa Fe League game against undefeated St. Genevieve (8-0 overall, 2-0 in league), Muno said that he expects his Mariners to be faced with the best team in the league, if not the conference.
He sees their ability to pursue on defense and overall aggressiveness as the main force his team will be dealing with all night.
“Top to bottom, they are the best team in the conference,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to beat them.”
If his team is to have a shot at upsetting the Valiants it will have to come on the shoulder of junior quarterback Matthew Partyka.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Muno said. “We pass the ball.”
Despite the absence of Sam Holguin, one of the team’s top pass catching threats heading into the season, due to injury, Partyka has come to be familiar with receivers Kyle Farber and Danny White. He’s also taken a liking to throwing to running back Tommy Murray out of the backfield.
It is that chemistry that has helped St. Monica turnaround a program that went nearly four seasons without recording a victory until defeating Salesian to end last season. The rebuilding process has been a moderate success thus far with the team registering a 2-4 record overall, but has gone 0-2 in league.
If the St. Monica Mariners are going to finally notch a league victory, Muno said it will have to be a disciplined effort.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” he said. “We’ve turned the ball over so many times this season.”
He stressed that Partyka will have to take the lead by being mindful of what he does with the ball. While Partyka has been prolific at times this season, turnovers have contributed greatly to some of the less stellar moments he’s experienced.
Taking some of the load off Partyka will be Murray, who has emerged as the Mariners’ top threat on the ground.
“Our pass has to set up our run,” Muno said. “There’s no hiding it. Teams are looking for us to throw first and run second.
“When we run it is a surprise to (opposing teams.)”
If St. Monica is going to win, the Mariners will be forced to light up the scoreboard against a St. Genevieve defense that is stout, but is prone to give up points.
When on defense, the Mariners’ task won’t get much easier.
Led by quarterback Chris Navarro, a player Muno considers a potential CIF player of the year, the Valiants run a spread offense much like the University of Florida.
With that style, the Mariners will face a team that lines up in passing formations only to often run the ball. Running back Anthony Blue, along with Navarro, will be doing the majority of the ball carrying, Muno said.
“It’s sort of like pick your poison,” he added.
Key to St. Monica’s run defense will again be defensive lineman Jack Porter and newly converted linebacker Kyle Schwan.
Schwan, who never played organized football before this season, is considered one of the hardest hitting defenders the Mariners possess.
“He’s really a bright spot this season,” Muno said of Schwan, who also plays for St. Monica’s baseball team.
With all of that in mind, Muno is aware that his squad will need to bear down if they are going to knock off St. Genevieve.
“All the stars have to be in alignment [if we’re going to win],” he said. “If we play good defense we have a shot.”