PACIFIC PALISADES ‚Äî The time-tested Santa Monica/Palisades football rivalry will be one part familiar and another newly minted this year.
As the two traditional rivals head into Friday‚Äôs game at Palisades, Santa Monica will be sporting a new look on offense that is substantially different than last year‚Äôs run-heavy mentality.
For Palisades, they‚Äôll stick to more terrestrial endeavors as they line up in the wishbone offense complete with a full backfield and two blocking tight ends.
“You know that they‚Äôre staying with it,” Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark said of the wishbone. “They aren‚Äôt going to change now, it wouldn‚Äôt make sense.”
As for his offense, Clark denies that the passing game that was so dominant during a 42-21 season-opening win last week over Redondo Union isn‚Äôt necessarily indicative of how he calls plays.
But, he‚Äôs quick to rattle off a corps of wide receivers led by USC-commit Sebastian LaRue as reasons why he said calling plays for this year‚Äôs offense has been the most fun he‚Äôs had since taking the position four seasons ago.
“We are still tinkering,” Clark said. “We‚Äôre not an all-out passing team. Redondo Union‚Äôs defense gave us the opportunity to work on the passing game.”
That said, even Palisades Head Coach Perry Jones isn‚Äôt buying it.
He attended last week‚Äôs Samohi game and couldn‚Äôt help but wonder how he will stop LaRue and his new running mate Jason King, who together accounted for three touchdowns from the arm of quarterback Ryan Barbarin.
Although Jones did note Samohi‚Äôs ability to run the ball with backs Will Taylor and Russell Revis, it‚Äôs the aerial attack that has him game planning on defense.
“They can absolutely take advantage of you with [LaRue],” Jones said. “Their quarterback is good and very accurate. We‚Äôll have our hands full.”
Palisades‚Äô running strategy is exactly what makes what appears to be a mismatch more complicated than that.
Clark believes that if Palisades can control the clock and put a few points on the board it would force his hand on offense to call an unbalanced number of passing plays. While he realizes this is his team‚Äôs strength, he would rather do it on his terms.
“I have to stress discipline on defense,” Clark said. “It‚Äôs not a secret, you have to stop the dive. That‚Äôs the first thing you have to do.
“You don‚Äôt want those [offensive lineman] getting through to your linebackers. That‚Äôs what they want.”
To avoid Palisades blockers reaching the second level of the defense Clark would rather force the Dolphins to pitch the ball, a maneuver more fraught with peril than just simple hand-offs up the middle.
“I‚Äôm telling my [defensive line] to keep those lineman off our linebackers,” he said. “If we can do that and play smash-mouth football on the quarterback, you force the ball carrier to make a play.”
The task of attacking Palisades‚Äô ground-and-pound style, led by running backs Justin Sinclair and Chris Wilkins, won‚Äôt be easy, Clark believes, but he‚Äôs confident in his front seven‚Äôs ability to stuff the run.
The added element to Friday‚Äôs game is the long-standing rivalry between the two schools.
The rivalry stretches back decades, having once been dubbed the Rotary Bowl. The game has lost that title, but none of the importance to both communities.
“You can never measure the heart of a rival,” Clark said. “The intensity level goes up. Anything can happen.”
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday at Pali.