Before encountering its biggest tests of the Ocean League season, the Santa Monica High football team had to clear away a pesky challenger that threatened to ruin its championship hopes.
Coach Michael Burnett had warned his players that Morningside, although winless, had talent. The Vikings’ biggest problem could have been overconfidence.
Santa Monica got past Morningside last Friday, 35-25, but only after the largest crowd of the Corsair Field season – a Homecoming gathering estimated at 5,000 – saw the Vikings survive a scare.
This Friday night, also at Corsair Field, Santa Monica will host Culver City. The following week Samohi will travel to Beverly Hills. These are the three frontrunners in the league, all likely to qualify for the playoffs, but in which order?
With Samohi holding a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter, Friday’s game suddenly became close. Morningside scored, then scooped up a fumble and went 55 yards to the end zone, reducing the deficit to 21-17. Morningside then recovered an onsides kick, but it was ruled that the player was offsides and Samohi was awarded possession.
The Vikings then ended the threat by scoring two touchdowns before giving up another and a two-point conversion in the final three minutes.
“I like players being aggressive but it bothers me that we’re making mistakes,” said Burnett. “We have several players capable of making big plays and have to be more careful to prevent those plays from being called back.”
An interception by Cameron Collins led to Samohi’s first touchdown, which was scored by Lewis Adeyemi on a four-yard run.
Morningside kicked a field goal, and Samohi’s Daniel Locke returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to a touchdown but the play was nullified by the third major penalty of the first half against the Vikings.
Samohi did score a second touchdown, however when quarterback Ryan Katz completed a pass to Collins to the one-yard-line and fullback Robert Garcia crossed the goal line.
Katz and running back E.J. Woods then connected on a 32-yard completion to the six and Katz threw his 11th touchdown pass in the last three games by lofting one to tight end Christoff Neuman, who split out wide and used his 6-foot-4 frame and good hands to pull the ball in.
That made it 21-3 and Samohi’s lead appeared to be comfortable. But then Morningside mounted a rally similar to one managed at Corsair Field last season by Beverly Hills, good enough to scare the Vikings but not good enough to pull out a win.
With the lead down to four points Adeyemi scored on a four-yard run and when the Vikings got the ball back they drove to a final touchdown, scored by Katz on a one-yard run.
Katz completed eight of 13 passes for 180 yards. Adeyemi ran for 148.
Last season Culver City edged Santa Monica, 14-13. Both teams advanced to the playoffs and now they’re back with contending teams again. But there’s something different. Culver City now has a four-receiver offense and averages close to 40 passes per game, a distict departure from the team’s long-time philosophy to emphasize the run.
Coach Tom Salter installed the system to take advantage of the talents of Darius Banks. Like Samohi’s Katz, he’s a sophomore who has burst onto the varsity scene. A week ago, he threw six touchdown passes in a game, a school record.
“We’re excited about the game,” said Burnett. “We have similar programs. We both build for the long run and don’t have many transfers.
“With this new offense they’ll try to spread us out, but we have good athletes too so it should be interesting.
“Fortunately, we’ve had some preparation for this style because it’s similar to what we saw against Venice.’’
Both teams have lost just once – Samohi to Venice and Culver City to Point Loma.Regardless of the outcome, Santa Monica will have another important game coming up at Beverly Hills, the league’s only undefeated team.