CULVER CITY — After going 1-4 during the preseason, it looked like Santa Monica High School was going to experience hard times once Ocean League play rolled around.

Times sure have changed.

Samohi is 2-0 in league and looking every bit like a squad with playoffs on their minds, but that dream will be tested tonight when the Vikings travel to rival Culver City, a team that is 8-1 and also undefeated in league at 2-0.

“They are very athletic,” Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark said. “This is a group of young kids we’re shooting for.”

In taking aim at what is clearly the most dominate team in the Ocean League, Clark has targeted Culver City’s offense as the Centaurs’ strength.

With senior quarterback Marquel Carter calling the shots, Clark sees a long night ahead if his defenders aren’t ready for the challenge. He and senior running back Edwin Tillman have been the focal point of Samohi’s practice this week.

“We have our hands full trying to contain their offense,” Clark said.

Although Clark considers Carter a top signal caller, he ranks Samohi senior quarterback Garrett Safron as the best in the league.

Safron has been instrumental in the Vikings’ two league victories, but the emergence of a running game has helped power Samohi’s league success.

The running back duties have been shared by the trio of Kori Garcia, Brandon Taylor and Donovan Citrowski, but that three-headed monster has lost one of its members. Garcia is suspended for this game following an incident during last week’s victory over Beverly Hills. Garcia allegedly threw a punch at a Beverly Hills player. The suspension is automatic, which will give Taylor and Citrowski more carries.

“It’s unfortunate,” Clark said of his absence. “It will be tough being without one of our best players.

“Our running game should still be fine.”

With both teams featuring capable offenses, defense and special teams may very well decide this key league matchup.

Clark said that his team will have to keep penalties to a minimum and play “mistake free football.”

He also warned his team about giving up the big play on special teams, something his Vikings have struggled with at times this season. The fine kicking of senior punter-kicker Jake Schmidt should force Culver City into poor field position all day, Clark added.

With his defense missing key lineman Jose Perez, who returned to action last week only to have his nagging knee injury resurface forcing him to miss tonight’s game, Clark expects younger players to step up and fill the void.

In Culver City, Clark expects Safron and the rest of the Viking offense to see a lot of pressure. He anticipates Safron will have to stay mobile to neutralize the pass rush.

That pressure will be cranked up if Culver City linebacker Victor Burnett is on the field. After missing action last week, Clark said he wasn’t sure if his team will face Burnett, who is considered one of the best recruits on the Westside along with Samohi’s Luke Zelon. To be safe, he prepared his team to face the dominate defender just in case.

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