HAWTHORNE — A spot in the playoffs has come down to this one simple fact for the Vikings: Win against Hawthorne on the road tonight and they’re in.
After starting the season 1-4, it looked like Santa Monica had little chance of making the playoffs. But a 2-0 start to the Ocean League schedule put the Vikings (3-6 overall, 2-2 in league) in control of their own playoff destiny. A pair of losses during the past two weeks have sent Samohi to 2-2 in league, but surprisingly have not extinguished their playoff hopes.
Currently tied with Beverly Hills for third place, Samohi holds the tiebreaker thanks to a victory over the Normans earlier this season.
“My kids are learning a lot this season,” Head Coach Travis Clark said before practice on Thursday. “They just need to apply the things they have learned.
“I’m excited to see what happens on Friday.”
In Hawthorne, Clark sees a team stocked with athletic players. He singled out senior running back Wayne Pitts as the Cougars’ most dominant player who warrants the most attention.
“He gets the ball all over the place,” Clark said of Pitts. “He’ll play receiver, quarterback.
“We’re keying on him.”
After reviewing game film, Clark realized that Pitts has the ball in his hands nearly 70 percent of the Cougars’ offensive plays. With that in mind, he expects to get a heavy dose of the talented Pitts.
The fact that Hawthorne is 0-9 on the season doesn’t give Clark any reason to be over confident.
“I know that they have had a tough season,” Clark said. “But, I also know that they are going to play inspired football.
“We’re not taking these guys lightly.”
A defensive line that Clark has called “banged up” all season will again be missing its most dominant player in Jose Perez. He has been ruled out of tonight’s game, but Clark is holding out hope that he could possibly return if the Vikings qualify for the third automatic playoff berth from the Ocean League. Culver City and Inglewood hold the first two berths.
Helping to bridge the gap left by the absence of Perez is the creative use of a pair of hard-hitting linebackers. Seniors Keelan Malone and Luke Zelon have, at times, been asked to lineup as defensive linemen.
“I feel like we’re pretty good depth-wise,” Clark said.
Despite losing the past two games to Culver City and Inglewood, Clark likes the way his team is playing.
“I think the guys are starting to believe,” he said. “We have changed the philosophy [of the program] totally.”
Clark, who is in his first season with Samohi, said that getting the players and coaching staff on the same page was the most difficult thing heading into the season. On the verge of the regular season finale, Clark said his team is finally “clicking.”
“We are at a good place,” he said.