Mitch Chortkoff, Mirror Sports Writer
No matter how many years Santa Monica High plays homecoming football games this one will be special.
With three straight losses, the Vikings were being identified as underachievers. They were winless in the Ocean League and faced with the task of playing undefeated Culver City and its high-powered offense.
But Friday night, Oct. 27, a capacity crowd that filled the stands at Corsair Field saw one of the most electrifying performances in Samohi history – a 63-35 victory.
It must be said that Samohi still could fail to make the CIF playoffs even if it wins its final two regular season games against Inglewood and Hawthorne. Currently Culver City, Beverly Hills, Morningside and Inglewood have the upper hand for the League’s three playoff berths. There will be one wild card team chosen among all the ones in the division, not necessarily from the Ocean League. But whatever becomes of the season, the young men and their first-year coach showed they could stand up to a severe challenge.
With the importance of the game and judging from comments made by players during the week, the theme seemed to be that although the odds were against them Samohi would not go down without a fight.
They did much more than merely make that point.
Samohi scored the game’s first three touchdowns, then matched Culver City with four each as the offenses prevailed and the score became 49-28. Even with that deficit Culver City remained dangerous as state high school passing leader Darius Banks kept finding open receivers out of the shotgun formation.
But Samohi scored two more times to make the game a rout, and a Culver City team that had been 7-0 and won every game by at least 10 points was finally halted.
How could a Samohi team that had been shut out by Los Alamitos and held to six points by Morningside score 63 against the best team on its schedule and match the most points ever scored against a Culver City High team? And how could it slow down Banks and his receivers?
A primary reason was the return of senior running back Louis Adeyemi, who had been idled by a broken hand. He gained 338 yards and scored six touchdowns against Culver City.
The threat of Adeyemi’s runs gave quarterback Ryan Katz room to operate and he responded with 11 completions in 13 attempts, including three touchdown passes.
Getting Adeyemi and Cameron Collins back from injuries has made the Vikings a much stronger team.
“It was the first time all season we’ve been healthy,” said Coach Zach Cuda.
The game plan was to run at Culver and keep the Centaurs’ potent offense off the field as much as possible. And a brand new defense worked.
The defense was the brainchild of athletic director Norm Lacy, who has coached two CIF championship teams; Lacy attended a five-hour meeting of the coaching staff on Sunday, Oct. 22. He suggested a 3-4 defense, which Samohi hadn’t used all season.
“His idea was well received,” said Cuda. Then it was up to my brother, Conrad, who’s our defensive coordinator, to install it in a week. And up to our players to accept it and make it work.
“Early in the week our players were a little anxious. By mid-week they were excited.”
Conrad Cuda did a splendid job and so did the players. It’s not often a new defense can be implemented in a week and used in an important game with so much success.
Although attention will be focused on Samohi’s ability to score nine touchdowns, the new defense had a lot to do with the outcome.
The defense allowed Samohi to apply pressure to Banks. He was sacked three times. The first was by Mitchell Rathner, who drove Banks to the turf with such authority he drew an ovation from the crowd.
On offense, Samohi featured a ground game but had some wrinkles that allowed it to keep scoring.
“We figured we’d need at least 40 points to win,” said Zach Cuda. ”We didn’t think it would be enough to just control the clock. We thought if we could get one touchdown ahead we could trade scores after that.”
As good as Culver City had been all season it had showed a vulnerability to the run. The Samohi coaching staff scouted a game when Redondo ran effectively against Culver City although losing, 45-35.
In that Sunday meeting the Samohi coaches watched tapes of four other Culver games.
There was no disputing the conclusion something special was required against Banks.
But it was important to run effectively, and Samohi did that on its opening drive. The surprise was the Vikings came right back with two more touchdowns, featuring Adeyemi’s runs but adding in a 40-yard completion from Katz to Geo Allen.
With kicker Dylan Early still out with a back injury Samohi missed the extra point after the first touchdown but went for two points after the second and made it for a 14-0 lead. The lead became 21-0, then 21-7 and 28-7.
Culver couldn’t catch up and Samohi’s grand evening was complete.
However, two other Ocean League scores reminded the Vikings of where they are. Inglewood defeated Beverly Hills, 20-0, and Morningside beat Hawthorne, 70-0.
The first four teams have 2-1 league records. Samohi is 1-2 and Hawthorne 0-3.
The Samohi players were quickly reminded of the importance of Friday’s game against Inglewood at Coleman Stadium in Inglewood. After defeating Culver City the celebration was warranted, but it had to be brief.