St. Monica Head Coach Adam Guerra gives words of encouragement to Animo Leadership players following a 43-14 win at Corsair Field on Saturday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CORSAIR FIELD — It was Sean Martinez’ night.

The St. Monica running back gashed Animo Leadership for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns in leading the Mariners to a 43-14 season-opening victory on Saturday at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field.

“I knew he was going to be that good,” Head Coach Adam Guerra said. “I knew it all summer.”

The win was Guerra’s first as head coach after taking over the program last spring. It was also a showcase for a number of changes Guerra brought to campus. After one night, he gave his team a mixed grade.

“I give us a D for the first half,” Guerra said, “but I give us a B for the second.”

The Mariners wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. On the game’s first drive, Martinez led St. Monica to the 24-yard line where he scampered into the endzone to put the Mariners up, 7-0. Martinez would gain 57 yards during the first possession.

The Animo Eagles would respond 4 minutes into the second quarter with a 63-yard touchdown run by Justice Akanaywa.

St. Monica’s offense bogged down for much of the first half after the Martinez score, giving Guerra fits.

“I think it was just a little first-game jitters,” Guerra said. “Some of it was on me.”

Running back Nick Pagnato would tack on a 17-yard TD run late in the first half that gave the Mariners a 14-6 half-time lead.

Guerra must have lit a fire under his squad as the Mariners came charging into the second half.

During Animo’s opening possession, St. Monica linebacker Chris Corbally sacked quarterback Jeremy Stephenson in the endzone for a safety, putting the Mariners up 16-6.

What happened next didn’t sit well with Guerra. Animo punted, but St. Monica was unable to recover the live ball as the Eagles took possession at the Mariner 29-yard line. Guerra was particularly ticked off by the play because he could be heard yelling out “the ball is live” as the Mariners took the field for the return. A punt following a safety is live, meaning any team can recover and take possession.

“I put that one on me, too,” he said. “We didn’t go over that much in practice.”

Animo would score on the possession, but it came in unusual fashion. St. Monica defensive lineman Justin Kennedy sacked Animo QB Stephenson only to see the ball scooped up by Akanaywa, who ran it in from 33 yards out. Animo converted a two-point conversion, narrowing St. Monica’s lead to 16-14.

That’s when Martinez decided to turn things up a notch.

He would score on a 4-yard carry on the ensuing Mariner possession, extending the lead to 23-17 after the extra point. It wasn’t long until Martinez struck again.

On the next possession he again scored from 4 yards out to give the Mariners a commanding lead. Pagnato and fullback Kevin Holubowski each added a touchdown to secure the win.

“They are a good, solid, fundamental team,” Animo Head Coach Max Stevenson said. “But, I think we did pretty well to hang with them during the first half considering how many young players we suited up.”

Game two of the Guerra era won’t be quite as easy. The Mariners travel to West Covina South Hills on Friday, a game Guerra hopes will give his squad a taste of experience against a school from a higher division.

“This will be a great challenge,” he said. “This is the best game we could ask for. We’ll see where we sit after Friday.”

daniela@www.smdp.com

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