PACIFIC PALISADES — 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’s game at Palisades, Santa Monica will be sporting a new look on offense that is substantially different than last year’s run-heavy mentality.
For Palisades, they’ll 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’re staying with it,” Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark said of the wishbone. “They aren’t going to change now, it wouldn’t 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’t necessarily indicative of how he calls plays.
But, he’s 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’s offense has been the most fun he’s had since taking the position four seasons ago.
“We are still tinkering,” Clark said. “We’re not an all-out passing team. Redondo Union’s defense gave us the opportunity to work on the passing game.”
That said, even Palisades Head Coach Perry Jones isn’t buying it.
He attended last week’s Samohi game and couldn’t 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’s ability to run the ball with backs Will Taylor and Russell Revis, it’s 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’ll have our hands full.”
Palisades’ 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’s strength, he would rather do it on his terms.
“I have to stress discipline on defense,” Clark said. “It’s not a secret, you have to stop the dive. That’s the first thing you have to do.
“You don’t want those [offensive lineman] getting through to your linebackers. That’s 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’m 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’ ground-and-pound style, led by running backs Justin Sinclair and Chris Wilkins, won’t be easy, Clark believes, but he’s confident in his front seven’s ability to stuff the run.
The added element to Friday’s 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.