CORSAIR FIELD — Three years, three losses.
That’s been the story for Santa Monica football since adding powerhouse Valencia to its schedule four years ago.
Each year, Samohi (2-1) has been able to bridge the gap between the two teams and it’s not lost on Valencia head coach Larry Muir.
“They have gotten better every year,” Muir said. “In their division, they are one of the contenders. I think they are going to be terrific.”
Muir believes this even after seeing video from Samohi’s big loss to Mater Dei last week. He doesn’t think that the 51-0 rout on the road is indicative of what Samohi is capable of.
He’s watched film from Samohi’s previous games — both blowout wins — and expects to see more of that team when the two hook up on Friday.
For Samohi head coach Travis Clark, he’s pleased that a veteran like Muir is impressed by his team.
“I have so much respect for him,” Clark said. “It’s an honor to have a coach like that take notice of my program.”
What really caught Muir’s eye last week against Mater Dei was the first 22 minutes or so when Samohi held the Monarchs to a 7-0 advantage. Muir, the observant vet that he is, even noted that the lone score to that point came after Samohi had a punt blocked deep in its own territory early in the first quarter.
“Obviously, Mater Dei is really good,” Muir said. “But, I think a couple of things got away from [Samohi].”
Clark used that fact as a motivating tool this week in preparation for Valencia (1-2).
He had his Vikings watch the game film pointing out what Mater Dei did that makes them an elite program. It’s that attention to detail that Clark wants to instill in his team going forward.
How it pans out is still in the air.
What both coaches agree on is that Samohi has to re-ignite its passing game to get the ball moving.
Muir is singling out senior wide receiver Sebastian LaRue as Samohi’s big gun. The USC-bound LaRue was held to just two catches last week, yet was effective in the return game. Muir thinks last week’s performance was an aberration and is game-planning against him.
A new development this season that gives Muir even more reason to fear the Samohi aerial game is the emergence of wide receiver Jason King, who fared somewhat better than LaRue last week.
“He showed me something on tape,” Muir said of King. “And the quarterback [Ryan Barbarin] throwing to those guys looks like he’s capable in the pocket.”
While it’s Samohi’s offense that has Muir’s attention, it’s the defense that worries Clark.
A number of key players were lost to graduation and it showed against Mater Dei.
Clark sees some improvement on defense with the secondary being the standout unit. LaRue and King man the corners, Matt Rusk-Kosa holds it down at safety.
But, the interior line and line backers are the guys Clark wants to see more out of.
He pointed to linebacker Nick Cardiel, who faced double teams last week and was the victim of his own success. Mater Dei obviously keyed on him with their coach saying in the days leading up to the game that Cardiel would have to be neutralized.
Cardiel and Co. will be facing a somewhat different Valencia team this season.
Not much changes for Valencia year over year, but this edition is airing the ball out more.
“We’ve had some struggles with the running game,” Muir said. “But I think it’s starting to work itself out.”
Valencia’s Sean Murphy returns as the starting quarterback, translating into more command of the offense.
Murphy’s main targets through the air have been a pair of juniors who are starting to make names for themselves.
Muir said that Malik Townsend and Nick Jones should give Samohi’s defensive backfield trouble, but not if his running backs, led by James Berkley, don’t rack up yards.
Clark is expecting the pass, but didn’t put it past Valencia to attempt to establish a rushing attack first.
“Valencia doesn’t have the same type of force as the past,” Clark said, “but with a well-coached team you have to expect anything.”
The game begins on Friday at 7 p.m. at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field.