After falling by a touchdown in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division championship game last season, Mission Prep’s football team hoped to continue its success this year.
But things didn’t start out well.
The Royals suffered a 42-0 road loss in the season opener to a strong Christian High team from El Cajon.
It was painstaking, but Royals coach Chad Henry said it motivated a young team to do better.
“We were bad in almost every aspect of that game,” Henry said. “It was embarrassing. But the players came to practice the next week and worked really hard.”
Henry said in their next contest against Rio Hondo, their opponent in last year’s divisional championship, the intensity was “about as high as I’ve seen here.”
The Royals play St. Monica of Santa Monica tonight at Mission Prep at 7 having beaten Rio Hondo 24-21 at home and St. Genevieve 36-33 on the road the past two weeks.
The Royals retained their No. 1 ranking in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division poll this week.
Doing much of the heavy lifting, Royals running back Patrick Laird rushed 41 times for 229 yards against Rio Hondo and then followed up with a 248-yard performance on 36 carries versus St. Genevieve.
Last year, Laird’s season high was 14 carries in the division championship against Rio Hondo.
Laird and Michael Cardwell, who has since graduated, shared the bulk of the carries last year. Laird finished his junior season with 970 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.
This year, Laird already has rushing 582 yards and three touchdowns as the feature back.
“Coach Henry says it’s a kind of like a reward to carry the ball more than 30 times, and I’ve had more than 30 the past two games,” Laird said. “You have to stay tough mentally, but the running is pretty much the same. You just try to hit the hole hard and bounce to the outside.”
Laird said he usually doesn’t feel the effects of taking that many hits until after the game.
“I often think right after a game, ‘I feel good; I’ll be fine,’ ” Laird said. “But then at home, and the next day, you feel it.”
To lessen the chance of injury and incur less wear and tear, Henry has worked with Laird on picking his spots to preserve his body from impact.
“I’ll have him go out of bounds or just go down instead of trying to fight for those few extra yards in certain situations,” Henry said. “That way, he’s running the ball, in a sense, more like 20 times than 35.”
Last year, the Royals were a prolific passing team, racking up about 3,000 passing yards with Tyler Baty at the helm to go along with about 2,500 rushing yards.
This year, sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller is making strides as a young player trying to fill big shoes.
As Miller continues to develop, the Royals have shifted to a style that’s more run heavy.
Miller threw 21 times in the first game, and 14 the past two contests.
Each game, he has become more efficient, completing 5 of 17, 7 of 14, and 9 of 14 passes in their three respective contests.
“I think he’s getting to that point where he could be a 12-for-16 (passing) guy for us or go, say, 12 for 18 with 150 yards and a touchdown, and that would be just fine,” Henry said.
Coming into the season, the Royals expected to have Trevor Fernandez as one of Miller’s main receiving targets.
But Fernandez suffered a minor break in his collarbone in a preseason scrimmage. He hasn’t played and isn’t expected back for another couple weeks.
In Fernandez’s absence, senior Calvin Levisay has stepped in to help fill that role as a first-year starter.
Levisay, an all-CIF-Southern Section defensive back last season, caught five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown against St. Genevieve.
“I feel comfortable at receiver, and Patrick and I are both competitors,” Levisay said. “We push each other to get better.”
The Royals expect St. Monica (1-2) to bring a downhill running game and more talent than their record reflects. The Mariners are ranked 11th in the Northeast Division, according to maxpreps.com.
“I think every week is a big game for us,” Henry said. “As a freelance team, it’s kind of like trying to make a college bowl game. Every week matters. Every week, we have a target on our backs.”