LONG BEACH -- He hasn't started this season, but Nate Montana has played arguably one of the most important roles for the De La Salle High School football team as it rolled to a 12-0 record and a spot in the California Interscholastic Federation Division I state championship bowl game.

As the scout team quarterback, it has been Montana's job to simulate opposing quarterbacks to give the Spartans' defense an idea of what it might be up against. In the week leading up to today's 7:30 p.m. game against Centennial-Corona at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Montana's task has been to simulate Huskies quarterback Matt Scott in the spread offense that Centennial likes to employ.

"It's been fun," Montana said. "I like the spread, so it's been a lot of fun practicing and I like getting these guys ready because you just talk a bunch of (trash) to them."

Of course, Montana isn't the prototypical spread quarterback since, by his own admission, he isn't much of a runner. Still, though, he said the team has had a good week of practice and he's confident the defense will be ready for what it sees in today's title game.

It's been an odd year for the oldest son of Hall Of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The younger Montana joined the De La Salle football team this season after transferring from Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa before last season. He served as the third-string quarterback for most of the year but has seen some playing time in the second half of blowouts.

"This has taught me one of the best lessons I've ever learned," Montana said of his role as third-string quarterback. "This school taught me what hard work is and how much harder I need to work to get myself better."

While his role on this year's team hasn't yielded a ton of playing time, it has gotten Montana hooked on football again. He said he will play at Notre Dame next season as an invited walk-on and that he hopes to earn a scholarship by 2009.

Montana, who played basketball for the Spartans last year, said he will not rejoin the De La Salle basketball team this season, opting instead to focus on getting ready to play at Notre Dame.

Local opinion

The Spartans got some surprising support from the stands as they took their practice reps at Long Beach City College on Friday. A few members of the Long Beach Poly High School Polynesian Club -- who also happened to be football players -- were at the stadium to have their picture taken and made it clear which team they'll be rooting for tonight.

"I hope they win because we should have been there," Poly fullback Iosefo Mikaele said of the Spartans. "We should have been playing against them."

Poly was on the outside looking in as the CIF commissioners made their selections last Sunday. The Jackrabbits, along with Birmingham-Lake Balboa, both had a strong case after winning their respective section titles. What hurt Poly the most was a 20-7 loss to Birmingham in September.

Surface tension

Moments before the Spartans took to the FieldTurf for their late afternoon practice on Friday, coach Bob Ladouceur called an audible and sent the team to a large grassy area beyond the north end zone.

Last week's North Coast Section 4A championship at the McAfee Coliseum was the team's first game all season on natural grass, the same surface they'll play on at the Home Depot Center today.

"We just haven't had a chance to work on grass at all this year," Ladouceur said after the practice. "I thought this was a good opportunity to get on a natural surface, especially since the conditions (at the Home Depot Center) are so poor."

The Home Depot Center field has been worn down after playing host to as many as eight Southern Section games over the past two weekends.

During one of the weekends, the games were played in the rain. By the time De La Salle takes the field today, the playing surface will have hosted at least 10 games over the past 14 days.

-- Ben Enos and Chace Bryson