The Wolverines (5-2, 1-1), ranked No. 9 in CIF Division VI, were the consensus league favorite heading into the season. They appeared to justify such praise with a 4-1 start that included a 33-24 win over Trabuco Hills and a 24-21 loss to Dana Hills.
Trabuco Hills trounced Newport Harbor (5-2, 2-0 in league) in a preseason scrimmage and Dana Hills thumped the Tars, 39-13, Sept. 30.
But a 38-10 league-opening loss to Laguna Hills damaged the Wolverines' reputation. And, an uninspired 18-0 triumph last week over winless Woodbridge did little to restore any luster.
Still, Brinkley believes another strong effort will be required for the Sailors to win for the sixth time in the two schools' seven meetings.
"I told our kids that the only thing that could put a damper on last week's win would be for us not to give a great effort this week," Brinkley said.
Big-play capability on offense and special teams has been the Sailors' biggest strength this fall. But a developing defense has not surrendered a first-half point to their last three foes.
Newport Harbor's bend-but-don't-break defense frustrated Foothill for three quarters before the Knights scored twice in the final 9:27 to make things interesting.
The Sailors have nearly twice as many yards on the ground (1,324) as through the air (762). But senior quarterback Tom Jackson has thrown 10 touchdown passes, while the Tars have scored just nine rushing touchdowns.
Senior tailback Ryan Rippon, who missed the first four games recovering from knee surgery, has 334 rushing yards on 51 carries. Senior fullback Jack Tracy has 584 yards and four touchdowns on 69 attempts.
Jackson's favorite targets are junior Jarrett Daniel (19 receptions for 297 yards and six touchdowns) and senior James Coder (19 catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns).
Aliso Niguel's offensive catalysts have been senior quarterback Tyler Zanoli and junior running back Greg Azaula.