SAMOHI Starting the season with four straight road games wasn’t easy for the Vikings, but somehow the team prospered away from home.
The Santa Monica High School football team improved to 4-0 on the season with a win last week against Long Beach Jordan High School (21-13), but head coach Zach Cuda is still happy to finally enjoy a home game tonight at Corsair Field.
“It feels good,” Cuda said. “We would love to get a win tomorrow night and get through the pre-league schedule undefeated. It makes you feel good about yourself going into league.”
With wins over rivals Palisades and Venice high schools in his hip pocket, Cuda knows that his team has proven to be stout on defense and effective on offense. He expects his players to be keyed up for the home opener and continue their early season success.
“We are playing with confidence,” he said. “We understand that we need to execute our game plan and we’ll be OK.”
That game plan has relied heavily on a running game that has run opposing defenses off the field and put up big numbers against solid teams.
Senior running back Christian Ross leads the team in rushing with 490 yards and five touchdowns in just three games. The Vikings’ offensive line, led by senior Amar Pal, has opened up big holes for Samohi’s backs.
The running attack, which Cuda expected would power his offense going into the season, has prospered even without star running back Vince Lawrence, who could miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Cuda said that the loss to one of his primary ball carriers has been hard on everybody, especially for Lawrence. He feels for the athlete who has been forced to watch from the sidelines as his team powered its way to a perfect record.
Samohi’s vaunted running game and a stingy defense that has given up just 25 points in four games this season gives visiting Capistrano Valley High School’s head coach Chi Chi Biehn reason to worry.
“Santa Monica High is a very good football team,” Biehn said. “They have a lot of speed and they are very well coached.
“I don’t want to say they are simple, but they are specific in what they do. Coach Cuda does a great job of getting the most out of his players.”
Having watched video on Samohi’s offense, Biehn knows full well that the Vikings like to run the ball between the tackles and overpower opposing defenses.
“They are not going to try to fool you,” he said. “They are going to hit you.”
Capistrano Valley plays a spread offense, with three receivers on the field most of the time. Biehn will rely on junior quarterback Brandon Brennan, a big passer who can “throw a ball through a hallway,” to move the ball.
Countering the Vikings’ offense, Biehn will look to Michael Maierhofer, a junior defensive end who can stop the run and has shown the ability to cover receivers. Linebacker Chris Connelly, a senior, is expected to help stuff the run as well.
“We are going to have to play a complete football game to beat these guys,” Biehn said.
A major factor that has helped build the Vikings into the type of squad opposing coaches have fits trying to game plan against is the team’s ability to remain focused in hostile environments, which was the case during the team’s long road to returning home.
“I think it helped the maturity of the team,” Cuda said.
Cuda expects the Cougars big defensive front to be focused on the run game for most of the night. He’s planning to stick to his run-first game plan, but isn’t afraid to mix it up if Capistrano Valley is able to stifle the run.
“We are going to throw in a couple of wrinkles, but for the most part we will be an I-back team and run between the tackles,” Cuda said. “We’re going to do the things that have been working so far.”
He added that the Cougars’ 3-3 stack defense, which features three down lineman and three linebackers with a fourth backer that can slip back into coverage or storm the line to stop ball carriers, presents a new look for his offensive line.
“This will be good for my guys to see different looks,” Cuda said.
This season’s home opener was delayed because Santa Monica College was installing a new artificial playing surface at Corsair Field. It forced Cuda to juggle his schedule a bit. With the construction complete, he’s relieved to come home.
“It will be nice to not be on the road,” Cuda said. “Everybody is excited to see the new facility and play on the new turf under the new lights.”