At this point in the football season, 18 weeks in, Corona del Mar High has shortened its practices. The Sea Kings have entered unchartered territory this late in the year, yet there is no need for long, grueling practices.
"If we can't tackle, throw or catch right now, we've got issues," CdM Coach Scott Meyer says. "I think having that bye week early in the season, before [opening Pacific Coast League play on Oct. 11], kind of gave us all a good break to catch our breath a little bit."
Since that week off two months ago, the Sea Kings continued their perfect season, never losing in the next nine games. The stretch after the bye has been almost as long as a regular season.
The Sea Kings aren't finished playing. At least one more contest remains. The next contest is Saturday and it marks the school's 15th of the year.
No other CdM football team has made it this far. The Sea Kings (14-0) are in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division III Bowl Game to play Ojai Nordhoff (13-1) at Orange Coast College at 7:30 p.m.
Since Sunday, Meyer and his staff and players have researched their next opponent. They knew their first 14 opponents, having played most of them the year before and all were from Orange County.
As for the upcoming opponent, CdM is still breaking down Nordhoff. The school is 125 miles away from CdM, more than a 2-hour drive away.
"I've kind of driven by there," Meyer says of the remote town in Ventura County. "I haven't stopped and stayed there, but I know where it is."
Meyer is learning that Nordhoff is a reputable program.
Like CdM, Nordhoff has posted a 26-2 record in two years. Like CdM, Nordhoff defended a CIF Southern Section title last week.
While the Sea Kings claimed their third straight Southern Division crown, the Rangers won their second Northwest Division championship in a row. The teams earned the chance to meet one another for a shot to advance to the CIF State Division III Bowl Game at the StubHub Center in Carson on Dec. 21.
"It's been so much for fun all of us, coaches, players, [because] not a whole lot of high school teams are still playing," says Meyer, whose school is selling pre-sale tickets for the game in the campus parking lot next to the pool on Thursday from 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. "If we could [win] this one this week and then finish at the StubHub [Center], that would be a pretty good way to cap off the season.
"It'd be kind of cool to be able to roll right into the Christmas holiday playing football."
The Sea Kings' break from school starts on Dec. 20, the day before the state final. Before they start looking ahead and figuring out whom they would like to see from the Northern California Regional Division III Bowl Game, Atherton Sacred Heart Prep (12-1) or El Cerrito (12-2), the Sea Kings are up against a physical Nordhoff team.
No team the Sea Kings have faced since Meyer began leading CdM two years ago reminds him of Nordhoff. He expects a challenge as CdM looks to extend its school-best 24-game winning streak.
Nordhoff didn't win its Tri-Valley League, losing to Oak Park, 23-3. The program's only two setbacks in two years have come against league teams. At the end, the Rangers ended up with the title that matters, the Northwest Division.
The Rangers get to play for another title because they have reeled off seven straight victories since losing to Oak Park. A ground attack has led them to their first state appearance. Nordhoff relies on its two senior running backs, Matt Woodcock (1,134 yards and 17 touchdowns) and Tayler Livingston (947 yards and 14 touchdowns). The two combined to rush 49 times for 345 yards and six touchdowns in Nordhoff's 49-21 victory against El Segundo in the Northwest Division championship.
"They look like they're really well coached," Meyer says. "They don't make many mistakes. There are just not a whole lot of turnovers, not a whole lot of penalties. They just do everything really, really well, not flashy."
The Sea Kings' defense is fast and relentless. The unit is coming off an impressive showing in CdM's 42-21 victory against Garden Grove in the Southern Division final. The Sea Kings recorded eight sacks and intercepted a pass.
CdM is usually at its best defensively when the Sea Kings jump ahead early. Teams usually have to start throwing against CdM and this is when junior defensive ends Parker Chase and Harrison Carter are unleashed.
Chase is coming off a five-sack performance, tying the CdM single-game record. He isn't too worried about Nordhoff's passing game.
"Their quarterback's pretty decent at throwing, but not like the best," Chase says of Tanner Workman, who has passed for 1,996 yards and 18 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
The best quarterback on the field will be CdM's Luke Napolitano. The senior is coming off his first postseason game in which he threw an interception, but in the second half against Garden Grove, he bounced back, throwing a touchdown and running for two touchdowns.
Napolitano, who has passed for 2,415 yards and 22 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, has weapons.
The backfield features junior Cole Martin (1,635 yards and 21 touchdowns) and sophomore Anthony Battista (950 yards and 10 touchdowns). Martin, who owns the CdM single-season rushing touchdown record, is 63 yards shy of breaking CdM's single-season rushing record of 1,697 set by Erik Fisher two years ago.
Cole Collins has 56 catches for 961 yards and eight touchdowns. The junior wide receiver has tied CdM's single-season receptions record and he owns the school's single-season receiving yards mark.
"We are going to have to … have one of our best games on offense of the season," says Napolitano, whose offensive line, featuring left tackle Ian Redman, left guard Michael Pierotti, center Giovanni Gentosi, right guard Brett Olson and right tackle Quinn Bassler, has protected him all season. "I think that the line push will be the biggest factor of the game."
The Sea Kings hope it pushes them into another week of playing football.
On To State
Who: Corona del Mar (14-0) vs. Ojai Nordhoff (13-1)
What: CIF State Southern California Regional Division III Bowl Game
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Orange Coast College, LeBard Stadium
Info: Tickets for Saturday night's game can be purchased at CdM and are $12 for general admission and $8 for students, children, and senior citizens age 65 or over. For those not able to purchase tickets before the game, the ticket booths at the game open at 5:30 p.m. and the stadium gates open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the game will be sold at the CdM pool parking lot Thursday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Ticket buyers can pull up to the curb in front of the pool entrance and there will be people there to help with the purchases. The winner of Saturday night's game advances to the CIF State Division III Championship Bowl Game, scheduled for Dec. 21 at noon at the StubHub Center in Carson.
Corona del Mar (14-0)
(*denotes Pacific Coast League game; ^denotes CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoff game)
(*denotes Tri-Valley League game; ^denotes CIF Southern Section Northwest Division playoff game)