GARDENA, Calif. — Santa Monica may be feeling good about themselves after a first-round playoff romp, but Templeton is no Gardena Serra.
Samohi football rolled over Templeton, 44-0, in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs last week, but round two’s opponent is sure to put up more of a fight.
Despite facing what many consider one of the premiere programs in Southern California, the boys from Samohi are confident — if not sure — that they will walk away with the upset.
“I think we’re going to beat them,” said senior linebacker Nick Cardiel. “They are a fast team, but I don’t think they’re tougher than us.”
That toughness has been buoyed of late with Samohi (8-3 overall) posting shutout romps the past couple of weeks. In fact, Samohi’s defense has given up just 33 points the past six games, including a perfect 5-0 record during Ocean League play.
The defense may have been stout, but Serra will certainly be the toughest opponent they’ve faced in the last few months. The Cavaliers have tallied 250 points during that same six-game stretch — and against the likes of Harvard-Westlake, Chaminade and St. Francis. Those teams are hardly pushovers.
Regardless of who they face on Friday, Samohi doesn’t appear to be phased.
“We’re not afraid of anybody,” head coach Travis Clark said. “They’re high school kids just like we are.”
That confidence isn’t unwarranted.
Samohi has already seen elite programs this season. While all three were losses (Mater Dei, Hart and Valencia), the experience gleaned from those games has proven to serve the Vikings well as they ride a six-game winning streak.
“We’ve already been in big games,” Clark said. “These guys know what to expect. Nobody will hit you in the mouth like that.”
The bold scheduling was a gamble for Samohi. To make it worse, they faced those three programs in a row to finish the preseason, going 2-3 in the process.
During the first game of the league season, it looked like the plan might backfire. The Vikings struggled during the first three quarters against underdog Morningside before putting the Monarch’s away.
After the game, Clark was proud of the second-half effort, knowing that that kind of grit would come in handy later in the playoffs when the stakes are higher and the teams are stronger.
Since, the Vikings have rattled off seemingly easy wins en route to facing Serra.
For the trend to continue, Cardiel and senior wide receiver Sebastian LaRue agree that the Vikings will have to play mistake-free. It’s a tall order, but their momentum and upbeat team mood may be able to carry them to the semifinals.
“We know that if we practice better than them, we can beat them,” Cardiel said. “When we played those teams, we made a lot of mistakes.
“We have to hit our keys and keep communicating. That’s what has made the past few weeks important for us, we’ve been communicating.”
While equally optimistic, LaRue is more low-key in his assessment.
LaRue has played with a number of Serra’s play-makers, experience that has tempered any cockiness the USC-commit may have. He grew up with them on the Pop Warner fields of the Inglewood area so he knows what they are capable of.
“In general, as a team, they fly around on defense,” LaRue said. “They have a front seven that is very explosive and some good defensive backs over there.”
Helping LaRue and Co. stand up to Serra’s defense will be the emergent Jason King. The wide receiver snagged three touchdowns during last week’s blowout of Templeton and added another with an interception return for a score.
LaRue knows that Serra has seen the tape and will have the task of defending two marquee wideouts. LaRue has been the subject of double and even triple teams all season, opening room for King to roam opposing secondaries.
“They can’t just take us both out of the game,” he said. “And if they do, we can hurt them with our running game.
“We’ve become really well-rounded that way.”
The game is at Serra on Friday. It begins at 7:30 p.m.