PLAYA DEL REY — Ever wonder if eight-man football translates well into the 11-man style?
Apparently, Windward School’s Scott Napier does, too.
The 10th-year head coach will find out if his team is prepared for a switch to the traditional style of football when the Wildcats face the St. Monica Mariners, which plays 11-man, on Saturday at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey at 7 p.m.
Host St. Monica (3-2) comes into the game looking at it as a final tune-up before Santa Fe League play begins in a couple of weeks, but the team’s coach is careful not to let complacency give his squad a sense of false security about playing a team moving up to 11-man.
“You never know what a team is going to do,” St. Monica Head Coach Larry Muno said. “But, I don’t think this team is going to change very much.”
While Windward is just now beginning to test the 11-man waters, the Wildcats are a mainstay on the eight-man scene, where they are currently ranked No. 2 in the latest California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1 poll. The Wildcats have also qualified for the semifinals of the playoffs the past three years, but have been unable to make it to the title game.
Windward’s lofty ranking and recent track record outweigh the fact that the team is making the transition to 11-man ball for Muno. The second-year head coach said that he privately fears that putting Windward on the schedule may not have been a “wise decision.” Yet, he is confident that his Mariners have a shot against the Wildcats regardless of how many players are on the field.
Funny thing is, Windward’s Napier feels the same way.
“It’s a disadvantage,” he said about playing an 11-man team. “We’re hoping to move up in the next couple of years. We want to get some kids exposed to an 11-man field, but this is still new to us.”
As for the game itself, Napier is impressed by St. Monica’s size and speed. He is especially fearful of Mariners quarterback Matthew Partyka, who has completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,085 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also adept at running the ball, leading the team with 249 yards and four touchdowns.
“We have to keep the ball out of his hands,” Napier said. “We’ll have to adjust our chin straps a little tighter.”
The two teams have played a common opponent this year in Brentwood. Both teams lost, giving this matchup even less certainty, considering that Windward’s Napier said that after reviewing the tape from the St. Monica/Brentwood game he was surprised that the Mariners, with their combination of offensive firepower and defensive strength, went down in defeat, 33-18.
“I didn’t think [Brentwood] could beat those guys,” Napier said. “Especially after seeing St. Monica in person.”
Key on defense for St. Monica will be the play of sophomore defensive lineman Mau Lauaki, who is playing his first year for Muno.
“He’s the best high school defender I’ve ever seen,” Muno said of Lauaki, who has collected 10 sacks and 49 tackles in five games. “He’s one of the leaders in the state.”
Lauaki and the rest of St. Monica’s defenders have a group of talented offensive players to deal with this week against a Windward, which is much more prone to run the ball than pass. Napier employs a trio of ball carriers that includes quarterback Jordan Wilson, who he calls a shifty runner. Helping Wilson carry the load will be senior running back Sam Miller and wide receiver/running back Charles Dawson.
Running the ball may be Windward’s primary threat, but Muno said he’ll wait to see what transpires on Saturday before he goes all into to stop the run.