The Orange Coast League football race is entering its most intriguing point of the season, one that will determine the league champion.
Laguna Beach has a chance Friday to stay in title contention when it hosts Costa Mesa at Guyer Field. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
It's a crucial game for both teams. For the Breakers, a victory will keep them in no worse than second place in the standings. For the Mustangs, a win would allow them to maintain no worse than a share of the league lead heading into a Nov. 11 showdown with an Estancia team that entered the week tied for first place with the Mustangs.
Sixth-ranked Laguna is 2-1 in league and 7-1 overall. Ninth-ranked Costa Mesa is also 7-1 but 3-0 in league. The Mustangs also are on a six-game win streak.
"The kids know what's on the line," Laguna Coach Mike Churchill said. "They're pretty calm about the whole thing and they've had a real good week of practice. We will be ready to go but our problem is that we're short-handed. We took 30 kids to our game last week (at Godinez) and this week, we have just 28 kids who will play."
Churchill said the Breakers will be without junior defensive end/fullback Ricky Coury (dislocated shoulder) and junior offensive guard/defensive end Spencer Anderson for Friday's game. Coury suffered a dislocated shoulder and Anderson a concussion during last week's win over Godinez.
Churchill said that senior Travis Clawson will replace Coury and junior Adam Farsheed will fill in for Anderson on the defensive side.
Laguna is coming off a wild 42-35 victory over Godinez. The Breakers seemed well on their way to an easy night on Oct. 28 after taking a 21-0 lead on the Grizzlies after one quarter. They bolted to that lead on a 16-yard scoring pass from Larry Stewart to Derek Reigel, a 75-yard touchdown run by Robert Clemons and a 93-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Norton Penney.
Penney's 93-yard return set a record for Laguna. The previous record for a fumble return (89 yards) was set by Clancy Oliver in 1964.
"Then we went to sleep," Churchill said. "They (Godinez) recovered a couple of onside kicks and we had a dumb penalty on a fourth-down play to keep one of their drives alive and just like that, we were down at halftime."
Laguna trailed, 28-21, at the break, but got even with the Grizzlies at the outset of the second half. A fumble recovery by Reigel on the second play of the half set up Laguna deep in Godinez territory. Three plays later, Penney scored his second touchdown on a 29-yard run. Penney picked up touchdown No. 3 before the quarter was up by scoring on a 40-yard run. The Breakers took a 35-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
Godinez tied the score at 35 and had the ball at the Laguna 44-yard line late in the game when Drake Martinez came up with another huge defensive play that turned the tide for the Breakers. The junior intercepted a pass at the Laguna 38 and returned it 62 yards for what turned out to be the decisive score.
The Grizzlies reached the Laguna 40 on their final possession of the game but turned the ball over on downs. The Breakers then were able to run out the clock.
On Oct. 14, the Breakers faced 2010 Orange Coast League Player of the Year Robert Murtha of Estancia in their league opener. Friday, they'll go up against one of the league's other elite running backs in Costa Mesa's Mario Smith. A transfer from Silverado and in his first year with the Mustangs, the senior has rushed for 1,484 yards on 125 carries and has scored 17 times.
Costa Mesa is coming off a 49-14 pasting of Calvary Chapel. The Mustangs have outscored their first three league opponents by a combined 169-21.
"He makes them better, but he's not the only threat they have," Churchill said of Smith. " They've got a talented quarterback (Nathan Alvis) and two really good receivers (Jordan Walden, Trace Curet). There's a lot there for out defense to contend with."