Windward School's football coach Scott Napier has been a part of several highly successful football teams and he knows what it takes to reach the top of the mountain. He was a fullback on head coach Tom Osborne's 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers team that played for the national title in the Orange Bowl and he went on to play with the Saints and Patriots in the NFL.
Last season he guided Windward to the CIF Southern Section Division I 8-Man championship and he is looking to get the Wildcats back to the title game this fall. So far, so good for his talented squad, which won its sixth straight game 50-13 over Lancaster Baptist on Saturday afternoon at Foley Field.
"We pass so much that we wanted to work on our running game more today," Napier said. "We haven't really established that yet. When you get to the playoffs, it's important to be balanced."
The biggest challenge for Napier this season has been trying to get his starters enough playing time to keep them happy while not running up the score. With the roster chock full of skilled juniors and seniors, including last season's state player of the year Charles Dawson, quarterback Sam Hake and running back Jordan Wilson, the Wildcats have multiple weapons but there is only one ball.
"Yeah, it's a little frustrating as a senior not getting to play as often, but we've got a strong team and as long as we win that's what matters," said Hake, who threw for 152 yards and two touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass in the Wildcats' 43-42 overtime victory over Excelsior in the finals last fall. "Our league isn't that good this year so it's important for us to stay motivated."
The Wildcats had no trouble against visiting Lancaster Baptist, scoring on four of its first five possessions despite having two touchdowns called back on penalties. Connor Simpson scored Windward's first touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak, Hake scored on a six-yard draw midway through the first quarter and the host Wildcats were off and running.
In the second quarter, Dawson scored on a 13-yard quarterback keeper out of the Wildcat formation, Wilson scored on a 26-yard run and Elijah Cufee scored on a 32-yard pass from Dawson to increase the Wilccats' lead to 36-0. Lancaster Baptist scored with just under two minutes left in the half on a 52-yard run by Morgan Daufen.
"I'm one of the players that the coaches have asked to be more accountable, which is hard for me because I've never been a vocal leader," said Hake, who primarily plays quarterback on offense and linebacker on defense. "I like to lead by example, but I don't mind giving advice to the younger guys."
Wilson added a 20-yard scoring run to increase the Wildcats' lead to 43-7 early in the third quarter and sophomore Austin Webster closed out the scoring on a 27-yard jaunt in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Lancaster Baptist drove all the way to Windward's 1-yard line, but the Eagles fumbled and Hake recovered. Freshman Wonder Smith ended the visitors' final scoring threat by intercepting a wobbly pass at the Wildcats' 5-yard line with just over a minute left.
The Wildcats opened the season against three 11-Man teams, losing a turnover fest to Brentwood before routing Riverside Christian and Santa Clarita Christian. They have since beaten their four 8-Man foes by an average of 38 points.
"I think we're a stronger team than last year," Napier said. "We beat Excelsior in the finals so they'll have revenge on their mind. Bloomington Christian is ranked No. 3 behind us and Excelsior and Desert Christian will also be a factor. Our goal is to get back to that championship game and win it."
The goal is for Windward to become an 11-Man program in the near future. It is a logical next step for a team that has enjoyed success in 8-Man competition.
"When I took over [10 years ago] we had 14 kids," Napier said. "This year we have 33. We feel it's about time to make the jump. It'll give our players more exposure."
Windward closes out the regular season with road games against Hillcrest Christian at Granada Hills High on Friday night and on November 5 at Faith Baptist in Canoga Park.
Score by Quarters
Windward -- Simpson 1 run (Webster run), 8:58 left in 1st qtr.
Windward -- Hake 6 run (run failed), 5:14 left in 1st qtr.
Windward -- Dawson 13 run (Webster run), 8:36 left in 2nd qtr.
Windward -- Wilson 26 run (Landry kick), 4:33 left in 2nd qtr.
Windward -- Cuffee 32 pass from Dawson (Landry kick), 2:36 left in 2nd qtr.
Lancaster Baptist -- Daufen 52 run (Aguirre kick), 1:57 left in 2nd qtr.
Windward --Wilson 20 run (Landry kick), 9:43 left in 3rd qtr.
Lancaster Baptist -- Daufen 7 pass from McDaniel (run failed), 4:09 left in 3rd qtr.
Windward -- Webster 27 run (Landry kick), 11:09 left in 4th qtr.
Records: Lancaster Baptist 5-2, 1-1; Windward 6-1, 2-0.