SAN DIEGO — The first time John Shacklett ever coached a Morse High School football game, the opponent was Point Loma.
It was 1971, and Morse lost, 19-13. It wasn't a surprise. Morse, which began its football program in 1966, had lost four of five games to Point Loma before Shacklett arrived.
"When I think back to that first game, I just remember that I didn't even know my kids," Shacklett said. "I spent all afternoon trying to figure out who was who."
Shacklett has since figured out more than that. In the last nine seasons, his team has a 7-1-1 record against Point Loma.
This season, Morse, riding a five-game winning streak en route to a 7-2 mark this season, is just one victory away from winning its second City Eastern League championship in the last three seasons.
Its next game is today against Point Loma.
Despite Morse's recent edge in the series, the challenge is not much different from what it was for Shacklett's debut.
Point Loma enters the 2:30 p.m. game at Morse with a 9-0 record and The Times' No. 1 ranking in San Diego County. Morse is ranked No. 3. Both are 4-0 in league play.
"Well, one thing's for sure," Shacklett said. "We'll find out today what kind of a team we really have this season."
Statistically, Morse has the county's top-ranked offense (averaging 33.2 points per game), and its defense seems to get better each week. Last week, for instance, the defense limited Mira Mesa to 25 yards of total offense in the first half of a 41-12 victory.
But attention deservedly has been focused on Morse's offense, which has plenty of speed. Running back Larry Maxey is the county's leading scorer with 18 touchdowns, and he is the county's second-leading rusher with 1,225 yards.
Quarterback Mike Liera had his best outing of the season last week, passing for 270 yards against Mira Mesa. Wide receiver Melvin Maxwell is Morse's deep threat.
"We have to worry about them getting the big play on us because they are awful fast," Point Loma Coach Bennie Edens said. "But, we're hoping our size can bottle them up before they can get started. If a lot of the plays come down to foot races, we could be in trouble."
Getting past the Pointers won't be easy. They are huge in places, especially at linebacker, where they have Israel Stanley (6-feet 4-inches, 229 pounds), Anthony Shelton (6-4, 222) and Bob Brasher (6-6, 200). Brasher also plays tight end, providing a big target for Point Loma quarterback Mike Bennett.
"That kid (Brasher) worries me," Shacklett said. "Because, no matter how fast we are, he's so big, and they just throw the ball up to him."
There are other things for Morse to worry about. For one, Point Loma has won its last three games without its leading rusher, Kelby Downey, who suffered a sprained knee against Madison in the first league game, which Point Loma won, 25-13.
But Edens said Thursday that Downey will be playing today.
Further, Point Loma's defense has cleaned up lately, recording three shutouts in its last five games.
And there is Point Loma's kicking game, among the finest in the county with punter Francisco Bogarin and kicker T.J. Linardi.
Linardi has kicked six field goals this season, including a last-second 42-yarder to beat Lincoln and a 47-yarder against Madison, the longest in the county this season.
Other Games to Watch
TODAY No. 2 Mount Miguel (9-0, 3-0) at No. 10 Helix (7-1-1, 3-0)--Forget that this game will decide the league championship because both of these teams are going to the playoffs.
The rivalry alone is enough incentive.
Mount Miguel Coach Gary Cooper knows the rivalry from a player's standpoint. Cooper's last playing season at Mount Miguel was 1967, when Helix won, 14-0.
In the past 20 years, Helix has a 11-9 edge over Mount Miguel in victories. Mount Miguel won last year's game, 14-0.
The game will decide which team gets a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Mount Miguel has the best defense in the county (allowing an average of 4.7 points a game). It will be tested by Helix's passing game.
Helix quarterback Tim Zeddies returned last week after being sidelined three games because of a fractured bone in his right foot. In his return, Zeddies completed 13 of 23 passes for 260 yards, including touchdown passes of 93 and 32 yards.
Helix Coach Jim Arnaiz said he is prepared to go to the run if Mount Miguel's defense controls the pass.
"You have to become a little more balanced as you get closer to the playoffs," Arnaiz said.
Junior fullback Spike Mitchell will handle the running duties for Helix, Arnaiz said. Mitchell has rushed for more than 600 yards this season.
San Pasqual (4-5, 4-2) at San Marcos (4-3-2, 4-2)--These teams should be prepared for one another because they operate the same type of offense and defense.
That is no coincidence. San Pasqual Coach Mike Dolan and San Marcos Coach Ken Broach each were assistants to Bob Woodhouse at San Marcos in the early 1970s. They each adopted Woodhouse's fullback-oriented offense and 4-4 defense.