Every Wednesday during the season, one unfortunate member of Pacifica High School's football team gets to play a bull's-eye during practice.
"We line up in the offensive formation we'll be facing that week and then throw the ball to a receiver standing on the sideline," Coach Bill Craven said.
"Everybody on defense has to get the guy. So, as soon as he catches the ball, he's live meat."
It's a drill that Craven came up with two years ago to practice defensive pursuit.
It works. The Mariners gang-tackle religiously, as many opponents have discovered.
Said senior tackle Derek Hickman: "We swarm to the ball. We want to have 11 guys in on every tackle."
Said senior linebacker Dan Blaue: "Our goal every game is a shutout. It's perfection."
Defense is a big reason why Pacifica has reached the Central Conference playoffs, in which it will play Valencia tonight at Bolsa Grande High School.
"Their defense is like a bunch of street fighters," Kennedy Coach Mitch Olsen said. "Going into the game, we were afraid of them."
As good as the players are--they have allowed just 92 points in 12 games--there isn't a standout among them.
"We're just 11 guys who go out and do our jobs," junior linebacker Bill Bradley said.
"They don't have the great athletes, but they have a lot of good ones," said Los Amigos Coach Art Michalik, whose team lost, 17-0, to Pacifica. "If one guy makes a mistake, the rest are there to cover for him."
Craven says that with the exception of junior end Ken Ashworth, none of the starting 11 is likely to play football at a four-year college.
"It's the smallest defensive team I've ever had here," Craven said.
Only three starters weigh more than 200 pounds of a group that has five juniors and one sophomore starting.
But what they lack in bulk and seasoning, they make up for in speed, aggressiveness and, most of all, teamwork.
"Our philosophy is one of attack," Craven said. "We put them on the line and turn them loose."
Swarming defense has been a trademark of Craven's teams since he became head coach in 1976. In 1978, Pacifica gave up only 32 points and reached the Southern Conference final before losing to El Modena.
This season's front four is the backbone of the defense. Hickman (210 pounds), Ashworth (195), senior Todd Veneman (205) and junior Jeff Torrey (180) have pressured quarterbacks relentlessly and have allowed opposing backs to run for 100 yards or more in only two games.
In the first round of the playoffs against La Mirada, the foursome had seven sacks and held the Matadores to minus 19 yards rushing.
"We emphasize pressure on the quarterback," Torrey said. "Then we hand it over to the secondary."
Said senior back Marc Johnson: "We know receivers are not going to get a lot of time to run routes because the quarterback is going to have to get rid of the ball in a hurry."
The Mariners have four shutouts and have held teams to fewer than 10 points in six other games. They have given up just 19 points in their last five games.
It has come to a point where even one touchdown is too many.
"When Garden Grove got a touchdown on us, I felt really bad," Blaue said.
When Garden Grove scored, Pacifica was leading, 48-0.
But Blaue and his teammates remember the early part of the season, when one touchdown did make a difference.
The Mariners gave up only 14 points in their first two games, but they lost, 7-6, to Villa Park and then were tied by Millikan, 7-7.
"The offense just needed time to come together," Hickman said. "The defense provided the time."
Pacifica shut out El Modena, 6-0, in the third week.
"That's when I began feeling we were a good team," Veneman said. "Pacifica had never beaten El Modena before. It was special."
The offense has come around; running backs Oscar Ravelo and Chris Shockley have rushed for more than 1,000 yards each. Pacifica has averaged 24.3 points per game since the El Modena game.
But the Mariners still rely on their defense when things get tough.
In the conference quarterfinals last week, Newport Harbor dominated the first quarter, amassing 115 total yards. But all the Sailors had to show for it was a 6-0 lead.
It was still 6-0 at halftime, as the Mariners killed drives by forcing two fumbles, one on their two-yard line. Pacifica eventually won, 14-6, as Bradley clinched the game with an interception.
"It should have been 20-0 at halftime," Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley said afterward.
He's not the first coach to be baffled.
"We moved the ball on Pacifica," Michalik said, "but when it came down to stretching the rubber band, it snapped back in our face."