Traditionally, Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar don't meet on the football field until somewhere at or beyond the midway point of the 10-week regular season.
That's the way it's been for the past seven years, a period in which both schools have been members of the Pacific Coast League. But beginning with the 2006-07 school year, Laguna has moved on to the new Orange Coast League, while Corona del Mar has remained in the revamped PCL.
The rivalry, however, continues, as the teams battle tonight — this time, in nonleague play — at Newport Harbor High's Davidson Field.
It's the season opener for both the Breakers and host Sea Kings, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Laguna Coach Jimmy Nolan likes the idea of taking on a formidable opponent right out of the gate.
"I think it's a great opportunity to face a very tough opponent," he said. "We need to prepare for league. Scheduling easier opponents won't do us any good. Corona del Mar is as good a team as anyone we've faced since I've been coaching here.
"This game will let us know our weaknesses, so we'll have time to get better before league."
A young Laguna team welcomes 10 starters back from a 2005 squad that went 5-4-1, which included a 27-0 loss in the seventh week of the season to Corona del Mar.
The Sea Kings also return 10 starters from a 2005 unit that finished 6-6 and reached the second-round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
One of the key returning Sea Kings is Steven Hillgren. The All-PCL senior cornerback nearly set a Corona del Mar single-season interception record with 10 last year — the record is 11 — four of which he snagged in the win over Laguna Beach. Those four interceptions did set a school single-game record.
Hillgren is a dual playmaking threat. Last year while also playing receiver, he caught 27 passes for 453 yards and six touchdowns. He figures to be a main target again this year.
Laguna's young defense will be tested by a Sea Kings offense that will be led by junior quarterback Taylor Hughes, a transfer from Mater Dei.
"To compete, we just need to have confidence in ourselves," Nolan said. "To win, we cannot turn the ball over, have any silly penalties and must play a flawless game.
"We are really young. The majority of this year's starters are sophomores. These guys need some experience. I know one thing — we can hustle. We average about 170-pounds across the board. We'll see what happens."
The young Breakers didn't catch any breaks coming out of preseason camp as two of its starting veterans, Max Hilburn and Marshall Thomas, each suffered a leg injury. Neither has been able to practice this week.
Laguna does get a boost on offense with the return of quarterback Charley Bowman. In 2005, Bowman, now a junior, passed for 865 yards and eight touchdowns.
Laguna won two of its final three games to close out the 2005 season, and the Breakers have been working hard to continue moving in a positive direction.
Tonight, they get a chance to beat Corona del Mar for the first time since winning, 41-21, in 1985. That was the final game between the two teams until the rivalry, which has had several lapses since the teams first met in 1962, was renewed in 1999.
Nolan, for one, hopes the rivalry continues — even if it's only a nonleague game.
"If I get a vote, yes," he said of wanting the rivalry to continue on. "I had to do a lot of convincing with my former athletic director (Ron Schwartz) to get this game. Historically, there have been a lot of problems during these games in the stands. For some reason, both school's students get agg- ressive when we play. I pray for peace in the stands, and some aggression from my boys on the field. These guys have really beat us up the past two years.
"We need people to make this drive (to the game). It's just a straight shot down PCH, familiar territory. Please come."
Breakers-Sea Kings series
Sea Kings 21
Sea Kings 6
Sea Kings 6
Sea Kings 6
(Corona del Mar leads series, 12-4-0)