ST. MONICA — The St. Monica Mariners may be 5-2 this year, not bad by any standards, but anything can happen during the next three weeks of league play.

Sitting at 1-0 in the Santa Fe League, St. Monica’s football team’s journey to a second-straight league crown continues Saturday against Salesian at Palisades High School.

“Anything could still happen,” Head Coach Adam Guerra said of his team’s prospects. “We’re getting into that part of the season where we find out about ourselves.

“The next three weeks determine everything.”

Through seven games, the first-year coach has learned that his team is the old-school type. They run the ball religiously, play hard-nosed defense and keep things relatively simple.

The formula of the running back duo of Kevin Holubowski and Sean Martinez has been effective all season for the Mariners. The contrast of Holubowski’s power running style and Martinez’ fleet-footed approach gives Guerra options when confronting a tough defense intent on stopping the run like the one they will face in Salesian, which has given up just 126 points through eight games, good for a 15-point per contest average.

With that in mind, Guerra is pleased to see his team’s passing game beginning to approach the reliability of the running attack.

The emergence of quarterback Luke Cain, who became the starter during the third game of the season, has helped build St. Monica into a more balanced squad. Ironically, Lukas Dretzka has become Cain’s primary target since moving to wide receiver from quarterback, where he started the season.

The combination has resulted in five touchdowns thus far and Guerra hopes to continue to build the rapport between the two juniors.

“He’s too good of an athlete to not be on the field,” Guerra said of his decision to move Dretzka to wide out. “We worked him at receiver a bit and he just kept getting better.”

While Cain continues to grow into the role of starter, he has the luxury of leaning on a running game that produced 382 yards against St. Anthony a week before Saturday’s bye. Cain was efficient going 7 for 9 for 82 yards and two touchdowns — both to Dretzka.

The offense may be evolving into the vision Guerra had to start the season, but it’s the defense that will have to come up big against a Salesian team that is 6-2 overall and 2-0 in league. The Mariners lost to Salesian last season, but the win was vacated when the CIF-Southern Section determined that Salesian was playing with ineligible players. A total of six of the team’s games were ultimately forfeited, opening the door for St. Monica’s surprising league title last season.

“[Salesian] is very athletic,” Guerra said. “Whatever defense they see, their offense responds.”

Salesian runs a pro-style offense, similar to St. Monica, but Guerra doesn’t believe it gives his team much of an edge. The beauty of the offense is that it could go from a two-back alignment to four wide receivers from play to play. That doesn’t give his team much to work from based on what they’ve observed during practice against their own first-team offense.

Leading Salesian on offense is junior quarterback Jihad Vercher, who Guerra considers a good all-around signal caller. Aiding Vercher in the backfield is running back Christian Vega.

“I love the way he runs the football,” Guerra said of Vega.

On the outside, wide receiver Keishawn Rowe presents an interesting challenge. At 6 foot 3, Rowe can overwhelm smaller corners and has the speed to break away in the open field. Guerra said that shutting down the big receiver will be key.

“With these guys, we have to be disciplined,” he said. “We have to gang tackle. This is a team that if you don’t tackle them properly they can turn a short play into a 25 yard gain.”

daniela@www.smdp.com

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