BEVERLY HILLS — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Santa Monica High School travels to Beverly Hills tonight at 7 p.m. to resume a rivalry that some consider one of the best in the area. While the Vikings and Normans are no strangers, the men who coach each team are in their first year at the helm.
Each man is familiar to the rivalry having both played and served as assistant coaches in past contests, but the unique challenges that come with building a program are a uniting factor.
For Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark, the opportunity to make a statement against a team that the Vikings haven’t defeated since the 2004-05 season is intriguing.
“We’re up for the challenge,” Clark said. “I’m excited about the improvement of my kids.”
That improvement came last week as the Vikings opened their Ocean League schedule with a 34-21 victory over Morningside. Clark was impressed by his team’s performance early in the game, but grew frustrated as his team allowed Morningside to score a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the game much closer than it appeared heading into the final minutes.
Clark has stressed closing out games strong this week in practice knowing full well the consequences of tonight’s key league matchup.
“Every game is a must win,” he said. “We’re not looking back, we’re not looking ahead.
“We must play like winners and champions.”
Once again, Samohi will be led by senior quarterback Garrett Safron who was 12 for 18, amassing 221 yards and three touchdowns last week against Morningside. The emergence of a running game to complement a slick passing attack will be a factor if the Vikings are to stay undefeated in league.
The running back platoon of Brandon Taylor, Kori Garcia and Donovan Citrowski will again be the driving force in the running game as a primary ball carrier has yet to emerge.
“We have a four-headed monster,” Clark said. “That is working the best lately.
“We’ll continue that formula until something falters.”
On defense, Clark was happy to report that leading defensive lineman Jose Perez will return to action following a knee injury. Clark said he expects Perez’ duty to be minimal, yet should help bolster a defensive line that was weakened by his absence.
A strong defensive performance will be crucial if Samohi is to finally end Beverly Hills’ dominance in recent years, Clark said.
Despite the fact that Beverly Hills is led by a new coach in Donald Paysinger, Clark said that Paysinger’s experience as one of the team’s assistant coaches under his brother Carter will serve him well in continuing the continuity of that program. Before coaching for Beverly Hills (3-3), Donald Paysinger coached at Samohi earlier this decade. That fact should give him a little added motivation, Clark quipped.
“[The coaching change] is more of a change for us than for them,” Clark said.