PLAYA DEL REY — For a moment, it seemed as if St. Monica’s dream football season would continue.
The Mariners had the ball with minutes remaining in the first round California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section playoff game against Chadwick, the team had just scored a touchdown and recovered an ensuing on-side kick giving the St. Monica faithful reason to cheer.
Unfortunately, the drive ended as senior quarterback Matthew Partyka tried to scramble for a first down on fourth and 12 at the 32 yard line giving Chadwick the ball back with 28 seconds on the clock and a 9-6 victory.
“We should have had that game,” Partyka said. “We’re not satisfied. I thought we could give it a run.”
The senior, who has been a major part of a revival at St. Monica the past two seasons, led the Mariners to its first league title since 2002 and its first playoff appearance since 2003. The Mariners finish the season 8-3 overall and 4-0 in Santa Fe League play, but it was obvious after the game that nobody was ready to call it a season just yet.
The team gathered around second-year head coach Larry Muno after the game, many with head in hand. Muno told his players that they had raised the bar, ushering in “a new standard for St. Monica football.”
Partyka agreed, saying he’s looking forward to see what the team does next season.
“This program is going up from here,” he said.
Despite a late rally, the Mariners fell just short of advancing, but the fact that they were even in the game late was a testament to Muno’s plan of keeping the score low.
Both teams came into the game known for their offensive prowess, but ended the night locked in a defensive struggle.
Chadwick struck first with a touchdown run by running back Chudi Iregulem to cap the team’s first possession in the first quarter. Chadwick missed the point after, giving them an early 6-0 lead.
While the offense struggled, St. Monica’s defense kept Chadwick off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter when kicker Will Clark booted a 15-yard field goal, making the score 9-0 with just four minutes to play.
St. Monica wasted little time responding. Partyka capped a two-minute drive with a touchdown pass to EJ Asuncion. The Mariners unsuccessfully went for a 2-point conversion, putting the score at 9-6.
With two minutes remaining, the Mariners recovered an on-side kick giving the team hope. But, a victory wasn’t in the cards for St. Monica as they turned the ball over on downs.
“That was a great one to play,” Chadwick Head Coach Gary Willison said. “They have some great players [on St. Monica], it wasn’t easy.”
Despite admitting to feeling a bit shaken by the loss, St. Monica’s Muno was anything but distraught. He said he was proud of the way his team continued to build on last year’s 3-6 record that came on the heels of a 37-game losing streak that stretched until the 2008 season.
“It’s amazing,” Muno said of the progress. “They are incredible kids. I’ll miss them dearly.”
Despite the departure of a group of seniors that includes Partyka, Kyle Farber, Sam Holguin and Jamal Young, the team returns a much-improved defense anchored by sophomore Mau Lauaki and junior Sia’anga Moala.
“I feel proud of my team,” Lauaki said. “I feel hurt right now, but next year, we’re going to take it all.”