CORSAIR FIELD — When one team likes to throw the ball and the other is adept at causing turnovers, something has to give.
That axiom will be put to the test when the St. Monica Mariners take on the Salesian Mustangs Saturday at 7 p.m. at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field to open the Santa Fe League season. The game promises to be a battle of contrasting styles. That collision is bound to be exciting if nothing else.
For St. Monica, its strength is on offense with junior quarterback Matthew Partyka leading a pass-happy offense that has led the Mariners to a somewhat surprising 2-2 start. Salesian, on the flip side, is known for its ability to pressure quarterbacks and force turnovers.
The challenge is a welcome one to both head coaches.
“I think we have a good game plan to attack their defense,” St. Monica Head Coach Larry Muno said. “They have some weaknesses, every defense does.”
Muno is steadfast in his belief that his players and coaches are more than ready for the test.
“We try to set things up that would enable use to take advantage,” he said.
On the Salesian side of the field, an opportunistic defense awaits.
The Mustangs have amassed an impressive 14 interceptions during a season that has seen them go 4-2. If not for a an off night by Mustang quarterback Frank Beltran, the Mustangs could easily be sitting pretty at 5-1.
“We go to the ball,” Salesian Head Coach Roodie Hiatt said. “My players react to the ball very well.
“We try to put some pressure on the quarterback to get him to release the ball a little earlier than he would like.”
Hiatt said that it is his team’s goal to tally at least three interceptions and three sacks each week. So far, that formula has materialized as the Mustangs have effectively left last season’s 1-9 record behind them as they have forged a winning program during Hiatt’s first year as head coach. Chief among Salesian’s defenders is Greg Castillo, who intercepted two passes during a win over Bosco Tech earlier this season. He returned one of those picks 103 yards for a touchdown.
“I preach that you have to play defense,” Hiatt said. “We have turned it around, we’re on the winning track now.”
That stands in stark contrast to St. Monica’s effective offense, which has scored 140 this season in just four games good for a 35 points per game average. The Mariners have scored 32 more points this season then they did all of last season — and that was in nine games.
The battle of a top-notch offense and a stingy defense has Muno and his Mariners eager to see how they stack up against a team they defeated last season for their only victory of the year. That win ended a 37-game losing streak that covered parts of four seasons.
“To counter act their blitz, we’ll go with an empty backfield,” Muno said. “Based on what we’ve studied, that should limit their [pass] rushers.”
He said that he is impressed with Salesian’s defensive unit and the smarts of their new coach. Muno, also being in his first year with his respective team, knows that it is difficult to change the culture of a team in such short order.
He said that the rebuilding process starts with little things like carefully watching game film — something he knows Hiatt has done in preparing for the Mariners.
“They are smart, they know we throw the ball,” Muno said. “There is no doubt that they know that.”
While not being too specific, Muno said he is planning a few new things on offense, but jokingly said, “let’s keep that a secret.”
One of those new wrinkles may involve senior running back Tommy Murray. He has rushed for just 117 yards on the season, but his 6.5 yards a rush average should give Salesian reason to consider him a threat.
While the Mariners are strong on offense, a depleted defensive line that is missing seniors Kyle Schwan and Jack Porter may give Beltran and the Salesian offense some breating room.
“Those guys were mainstays on the defensive line,” Muno said.
To give his defensive unit a bit of a breather, he said he may slow down the pace of his offense to give them more rest. The team’s fast style of play often times scores quickly forcing the defense to take the field without getting much of a blow.
The flu bug has also taken its toll on St. Monica, giving Muno even more things to worry about.
“It is just a challenge to put together a team when you have so few healthy guys,” he said.