CULVER CITY — Minutes after Samohi beat Culver City to win the Ocean League title earlier this season Head Coach Travis Clark must have had a premonition.
Even with a likely third place finish in league for Culver City and a tough road through the playoffs, Clark said that he didn’t want to see the Centaurs again in the playoffs, calling them an explosive team that Santa Monica High School was lucky to slow down during a 17-14 victory.
Clark’s prediction has come to pass and Samohi finds itself facing league rival Culver City in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs Friday on the road.
“It’s true what they say, it’s tough to beat a good team twice,” Clark said. “I’m sure they are trying to beat us. If I was over there that’s what I would be thinking.”
Samohi’s path to the semifinals has been paved with wins over Channel Islands and Ventura.
Culver City’s road has been a bit tougher.
The Centaurs opened the playoffs with an upset of No. 1 seed Serra and followed that with a surprising 51-28 win over Righetti last week.
For Clark, he’s not putting too much stock into the difficulties of beating the same team twice. Instead, he’s looking at matchups and thinking his boys can play with anybody.
“We’re not going to lay down,” Clark said. “If you want to beat us, you’ll have to come at us.”
A revived passing game led by quarterback Lukas O’Connor has powered Culver City to this point. Last week, O’Connor finished with an eye-popping 415 yards passing and six touchdown strikes. His favorite target was Alex Jackson, who grabbed seven passes for 126 yards and two scores.
Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the last time these two teams met. O’Connor was stifled, with Samohi’s defense holding him to eight of 13 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown. His passing mate Jackson finished with just two catches, but one was a 73-yard touchdown late in the game that gave Culver City fleeting hope that they would dig out the win.
Clark expects his defensive backfield, led by senior Dylan Muscat, to stand up to the challenge. Muscat along with Kori Garcia, Mathew Rusk-Kosa and Sebastian LaRue have been tough to pass on throughout the season.
“I love the matchup,” Clark said. “We have some talent in the secondary. We’ve been opportunistic.”
One of the only problems of gearing up for Culver City’s offense is the use of backup quarterback Kevin Porche. More of a runner than a passer, he gives the Centaurs a different look for opposing defenses, one that keeps them off balance.
Clark has been impressed by O’Connor’s performance in the playoffs, but he expects the Centaurs to use Porche more often than in recent games.
“He’s the guy I’m looking at,” Clark said. “He gives them something different.”
When Culver City is on defense, it will be a totally different story.
Samohi likes to air it out on occasion to the likes of LaRue and Anthony “Animal” Hernandez, but there’s no doubt about it, the Vikings run.
Garcia gashed Culver City for 207 yards during the first meeting and is expected to again carry the load.
“Mr. Garcia is always impressive,” Culver City head coach Jahmal Wright said. “We have our hands full.”
Aside from Garcia and the running game, the emergence of LaRue as a pass catcher has Wright taking notice.
LaRue has scored five touchdowns in the playoffs, with four coming from quarterback Christian Salem in the passing game. He was knocked out in the first half of last week’s game, but only after scoring on a long touchdown strike.
Samohi’s medical staff ruled that he suffered a mild concussion, and was held out as a precaution. Clark said that LaRue has been practicing this week and expects him to return.
“I’m excited to see this,” Clark said of the game. “This may be the greatest football game in the history of the Westside.”