e36BD6unx2B66A8D.lg

#10 Senior QB,DB Matthew Partyka (C) (photo by Brandon Wise)

PLAYA DEL REY — St. Monica football has come a long way.

As the Mariners prepare for a first round California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section playoff matchup with Chadwick on Friday, it seems ages removed from the team’s darker days.

St. Monica, which won the Santa Fe League this year with a 4-0 record, is making its first playoff appearance since 2003. The years since, besides this season, were tough times for the Mariners. At one point, the team lost 37 straight games from September 2005 to November 2008. All of that began to change when second-year head coach Larry Muno stepped onto campus last season.

Muno quickly turned the team around, notching a 3-6 record, but he wanted and expected more. He and his Mariners came into the season with momentum and have impressed in amassing an 8-2 overall record.

“Things are good,” Muno said. “I can’t complain.”

How could he? Muno has resurrected a program that early last decade was a private school force. He’s done it with a pass-happy attack that features senior quarterback Matthew Partyka and the wide receiver duo of Kyle Farber and Sam Holguin. Aside from better play, Muno said that the secret to his success has been simple things like proper blocking technique and crisp route running. They seem like minor things, but over the course of a football season, those finer points are the difference between a league title or a last place finish. Well, that, and a little thing called faith.

“The kids really bought into it, it’s exciting for them,” Muno said. “When you believe, you can do anything.”

While he admits that the year has already been a success, Muno said he’d like to play a few more games before calling it a season.

The first test comes from Chadwick, a semi-finalist in last year’s CIF-SS Northeast Division. Chadwick enters into the game with an 8-2 overall record and 3-2 Prep League mark. Chief among all of Chadwick’s threats is quarterback Hank Trumbull, Muno said. He said he doesn’t see many flaws in the 6-foot-3 signal caller.

“He has a really quick release,” Muno said of Trumbull. “He moves well in the pocket. He’s the total package.”

Fortunately for St. Monica, the team comes into the game at near full strength. Muno will call on sophomore standout defensive lineman Mau Lauaki to put pressure on Trumbull, hopefully forcing Chadwick to run the ball.

Problem is, Chadwick is pretty good at that, too.

Chadwick senior running back Chudi Iregbulem leads the team with 1,208 rushing yards to go along with 20 touchdowns. Muno said that stopping Iregbulem and Trumbull are the keys to the game, but admits that not many teams have been successful doing so.

Funny thing is, Chadwick’s coaching staff is thinking the same about St. Monica’s offense.

Chadwick Head Coach Gary Willison is impressed by the job Muno has done turning around St. Monica’s program, saying that he’s noticed that St. Monica’s players appear to enjoy the game and playing under the second-year coach.

Compliments aside, Willison fears St. Monica’s ability to score points and sees Partyka as the main guy to stop.

“He’s a dynamic play-maker,” Willison said. “We have to eliminate the big play.”

The game is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey.

daniela@smdp.com