After failing its first two tests in the Ocean League football race, Santa Monica High retains hope that it can achieve a CIF playoff berth, but two important results must occur.
Samohi must win a road game from Inglewood Friday night, November 7, and league leader Beverly Hills must win its contest with Culver City.
“If we don’t defeat Inglewood, our only chance for a playoff berth would be getting an at-large bid,” said Samohi coach Zach Cuda, following a 35-28 home loss to Culver City on Halloween night.
“There are 15 automatic playoff berths in our division, and only one wild card berth. There are four leagues in our division, so we’d be measured against three other fourth- place teams.”
How did Samohi get into this position after winning its first six games? First, the five non-league victories have little bearing when playoff teams are chosen. Second, Samohi was unable to hold leads in two league games.
The Vikings had a 10-0 lead over Beverly Hills but lost, 26-10. Then they rolled up a 28-14 lead over Culver City, but gave up the last three touchdowns of the game.
Now Beverly Hills commands the league race with a 3-0 record, which includes a 28-27 win over Inglewood. Inglewood has beaten Culver City, thrusting itself into contention for one of the league’s automatic playoff berths.
When Samohi built a 21-7 halftime lead over Culver City its game plan had succeeded, and the Vikings were in command. Even after each team scored another touchdown, Samohi still seemed in good shape.
But Edwin Tillman returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown, the longest punt return in the Centaurs’ history. Culver City then recovered an onside kick, and quickly scored the tying touchdown.
Finally, Samohi drove deep into Culver territory, well within field goal range. But two penalties moved the Vikings so far back they decided to punt. The ball went into the end zone, and Culver took over on its own 20 with time running out.
On the third play, with less than a minute left, Tillman caught a pass for an apparent 15-yard gain, but escaped defenders and turned the completion into a 65-yard touchdown.
That sequence of events changed the outcome of a game Samohi had controlled most of the way.
“In the fourth quarter we wore down a little bit,” said Cuda. “We lost contain on the punt return, and that’s something we practice against. But the defender went inside and gave the punt returner the outside. Then we had four or five opportunities to bring him down but didn’t grab onto him.
“It was a huge momentum swing and I told our players you can’t take the easy way out against a player as talented as he is.”
Cuda said players had been warned an onside kick might then be coming, but several on the front line prematurely backed off into coverage. A Samohi player did get his hand on the ball before anyone else, but couldn’t hold onto it.
Summarizing the outcome, Cuda said: “We didn’t do the little things right and Culver did.”
Regarding injuries, Terry Wilson and Drew Hammond were in for about half the plays, neither at 100 percent. Wilson gamely tried to play despite a toe injury.
Vince Lawrence continued to be out with a broken collarbone and has improved to the point where he’s listed as week to week.
These injuries to some of Samohi’s best players have forced others to play on both offense and defense.
On the positive side, junior quarterback Garrett Safron continues to make progress in his first varsity season.
Safron’s proper read of a defense geared to stop the run resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass to Chris Featherstone on the play that gave Samohi a 21-7 lead.
Against Inglewood, Samohi will play against receiver/kick returner Shaquelle Evans, the Ocean League player receiving the most attention from college scouts.