As I shook Scot Ruggles’ hand and prepared to interview him after his first win as a head coach in the Mission League, Head of Athletics Terry Barnum briefly interrupted for a bro-hug and a quick word with the coach.
“We pointed to this game,” Barnum chuckled. “We pointed to this game.”
I’m glad I made the hour drive to Santa Fe Springs to witness the football team take down St. Paul 44-11. The enthusiasm about the win was evident on everyone’s face at the game, from the athletic directors to the coaching staff and to the players.
By beating St. Paul, a team that came back from a 21-6 deficit to beat the Wolverines 41-28 last year, in such a definitive fashion, the football program showed it has reached a turning point. Don’t get me wrong, this win didn’t make our football team a juggernaut overnight. But now, the Wolverines have a clear path to a playoff spot. They haven’t played in a playoff game since 2009.
The top three teams in the six-team Mission League automatically make playoffs. Chaminade and Serra look to me like they have two of those spots locked up, leaving the Wolverines to fight out St. Francis and Cathedral for that third spot.
The team came a field goal away from beating St. Francis last year and actually beat Cathedral for their first win ever in the Mission League, so I think the Wolverines definitely have it in them if they play with the same fire and energy they brought to St. Paul.
If this team can make the playoffs this year, it sends a strong message about the future of our program under the new coaching staff. With an official roster of 35 players, the Harvard-Westlake football program has found a way to compete in a league where most other teams have about 60 players on their roster.
The key for Harvard- Westlake, a small private school without many 300 lbs. lineman but plenty of smart kids, is to outthink opponents.
Ruggles’ brand of the spread offense is a perfect example of how to win football games with brain instead of braun: throw the ball all across the field to spread the defense out, make sure every single player on offense knows where to go without a huddle and instead through a set of complex hand signals and move from each play as quickly as possible without giving opponents time to figure out where they’re going.
Defensive coordinator Brendan Jones has shown a similar capability to totally neutralize opponents through effective game planning. Jones and the staff of defensive coaches have prepared the defense for all six offenses it has faced this year through extensive video scouting and game planning. Even when opposing offensive players outsize our defensive players, the Wolverines have made stops.
This may be the last year the football team makes a run for a while. Thirteen of those 35 players will graduate with me this June, leaving behind a roster in need of the leadership that has done the Wolverines so well so far.
But Ruggles can worry about the future then. For now, he and his team finally have a “now” worth focusing on, and league play is just getting started.