CORSAIR FIELD — It will be the war of the Westside on Friday.
Bragging rights are on the line as Santa Monica High School and Palisades prepare to clash at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field.
“Both teams being from the Westside gives us a little more motivation,” said Samohi’s Travis Clark, who has both coached and played in this annual rivalry game that dates back to 1979 when it was dubbed the Rotary Bowl. “The players know each other. They run into each other on the [Third Street Promenade].
“There’s that added dimension.”
The series has been lopsided in recent years in Samohi’s favor, but Head Coach Clark isn’t taking Pali lightly. Despite winning 42-20 last year, Pali was able to mount a rally late in the game, scoring three times in the half.
At the time, Clark was fuming, knowing that his team let up against an overmatched opponent on the road.
He hopes that this year’s edition of the Vikings doesn’t repeat that gaff.
“This year, the difference will be focus,” Clark said. “These guys have a different sense of urgency. They want to be champs, winners.”
Samohi’s core of veteran leadership is what has Clark high on his team. Coming off a 35-0 shutout of Leuzinger in the season opener last week, he’s satisfied with his team’s progress.
He pointed to first-year starting quarterback Christian Salem’s ability to manage the game as a positive sign. Clark didn’t ask Salem to pass much, hoping to open up the offense slowly, adding plays to their package as they go. While Salem gains command of the offense, the Vikings will continue to lean on its stable of running backs.
Chief among the group is senior Kori Garcia, who ran for over 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns during the Leuzinger game. Senior transfer London Lewis added two scores of his own.
A pleasant surprise last week was the emergence of sophomore running back Will Taylor. He carried the ball five times with his longest run gaining 25 yards. That performance has Clark reconsidering how he distributes the ball.
He thinks that the steady play of seniors like Garcia and Lewis is rubbing off on Taylor as he assumes a greater role on the team.
Knowing he has backup at running back, Garcia is putting his money on the Vikings.
“I think we can run on them,” he said. “Wait, I know we can run on them.”
Despite being considered favorites, Garcia added that the team is confident, but has “our heads on straight.”
Rushing the ball is shaping up to be the theme of the game.
Pali runs a triple option offense with a packed backfield. Leading the way is quarterback Nathan Dodson, a player Head Coach Perry Jones said can pass, too.
“We hope he’s going to develop into a balanced threat,” Jones said.
When Dodson isn’t tasked with keeping it himself, he’ll be handing off to running back Arte Miura, a player the second-year coach calls “our main dude.”
Facing a running team is fine by Clark, who said that his defense has shown the ability to be stout against the run and pass as they were against Leuzinger.
He expects Pali to come out trying to pound the ball at the heart of Samohi’s defense. The opportunity to stick it to Samohi after losing the past few seasons should also be a motivating factor for the Pali Dolphins. According to school officials, Samohi’s winning streak over Pali dates to at least 1995.
“It will be a physical game,” Clark said. “I love it, it’s old school football.”
The only problem for Clark was getting a read on Pali’s personnel after watching film from its opening loss to El Camino Real. Being so early in the season, it was difficult to grasp what they could do. But, he did note that they have talent and are balanced on both offense and defense.
“They have a lot of team speed,” he said. “They are also bigger than us up front.
“This will be a good challenge for my boys.”