After Santa Monica High lost its annual football game to Venice for four straight years, Viking Coach Zach Cuda was hopeful, even confident, this time would be different.
His expectations were based on two developments – the hard work put in by linemen in off-season workouts and some snappy plays added to take advantage of senior quarterback Ryan Katz’ mobility.
But following a scoreless first half Friday night, September 21 at Corsair Field, Venice exploded for a 33-7 victory.
All the scoring came in the third quarter.
“It was disappointing because we couldn’t do the things physically in the trenches we needed to do against this team,” said Cuda. “I thought our players had become stronger but it didn’t work out that way. And then we made a few mistakes and five bad minutes cancelled out the fact we played well for 3 1/2 quarters.”
Rain was also a factor. It was believed that rain would hamper Venice’s array of speedy athletes, but running back Curtis McNeal scored four touchdowns and Samohi couldn’t execute plays installed in practice during the week.
“We had some things from our spread offense we thought could work against their defense but the wet ball was a problem,” said Cuda.
The biggest problem, however, might have been that Venice has one of its best teams in school history. It has every starter back from last year’s defense and was playing against an inexperienced Samohi offensive line.
And McNeal, who has committed to play for USC next season, was able to return from a concussion suffered in the previous Gondolier game, benefiting from a bye week.
Venice’s Angelo Gasca, who has coached two Gondolier teams that went deep into the LA City Section playoffs, has said this could be his best team. And college scouts estimate Venice has six to eight Division 1 prospects.
So, considering the caliber of the opponent and the rain, Samohi chose to keep the ball away from Venice at the outset.
Santa Monica took the opening kickoff and held the ball for nearly 10 minutes with a ground attack. But then Santa Monica was penalized for being offside at the Venice 15 and got no points for its effort.
The game proceeded to halftime with no scoring, but if Venice was frustrated it didn’t show. The Gondoliers merely remained patient until their offense could do its thing.
Venice scored in the third quarter but missed the extra point and Samohi came back with its best play of the evening – a touchdown pass from Katz to Taylor Wright followed by Alex Kovacs’ successful extra point.
The 7-6 lead showed Samohi could respond in an emergency.
But then came the succession of mistakes. After Venice scored, Samohi fumbled on an option play, leaving Venice just 12 yards short of another score.
Two more times Samohi punted and both times Venice scored.
“We couldn’t make mistakes and give their outstanding athletes so many opportunities,” said Cuda. “But that’s what happened.”
Venice is a fine team, but it remains to be seen if it will be able to win the LA City championship for the first time. That’s because defending City champion Birmingham appears better than last year. It has defeated two CIF powerhouses, Long Beach Poly and Notre Dame.
Venice will play another important non-league game Friday night, September 28, traveling to Oaks Christian, which had a record 48-game winning streak until it lost to St. Bonaventure last week, 41-33.
Last year Oaks Christian won at Venice.
As for Samohi, it will again be tested with high profile non-league games the next two Friday nights at Corsair Field against Long Beach Jordan and Los Alamitos.
Then the Ocean League schedule will begin.
Today Venice has a 3-0 record and Santa Monica is 2-1. There’s a long way to go, but the Vikings need to get their momentum back.