SAMOHI — The rivalry between Santa Monica and Venice high schools is big in these parts.

Coming off a 28-0 win last season, Samohi players and coaches realizing that bragging rights are on the line enter tonight’s 7 p.m. game at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field with something to prove. They want it to be known that last year’s victory was no fluke.

“This is the biggest game of the season,” senior Samohi linebacker Luke Zelon said. “Everybody is fired up.”

That exuberance isn’t limited to the players. First-year Head Coach Travis Clark, who played for Samohi, never had a chance to face them as a player and is relishing the opportunity to finally line up against the Gondoliers.

“I know they want to whoop Samo,” he said. “I feel just as strong about beating Venice.”

Although this is the first time facing them since taking over as head coach, Clark understands that the proximity between the two schools only makes the rivalry that much more pronounced.

“I always wanted the opportunity when I was young,” said Clark, who grew up on the Westside. “Now is my chance.”

He has confidence that the Vikings are up to the challenge, but recognizes that a special effort will have to be made to shut down a team he called “physical and tough.”

As has been the case all season, senior quarterback Garrett Safron will be called on to lead a squad that put up 35 points last week against Palisades. Safron completed 12 of 15 passes for 153 yards and tossed a touchdown in the win that evened Samohi’s record at 1-1.

Clark praised his veteran signal caller’s ability to lead the offense and went one further by saying that he even looks good on game film. He said Safron still has a few things to work out, but is happy with his progress thus far.

“Garrett has never been asked to do what we do,” Clark said of his pass-happy attack. “We’ll go as far as he takes us.”

Last week’s game against Pali gave the Vikings an opportunity to showcase their running game. Junior Brandon Taylor rushed for 135 yards and scored three touchdowns in the winning effort.

“Taylor is growing into his own,” Clark said. “He’s becoming a man right now.”

Taylor will again be looked on to shoulder the load, but Clark wants to give running backs Shane Jones and Kori Garcia more looks.

Clark hopes to build on that success running the ball and spent the better part of this week working with his offensive line.

“I really want to get that line to mature rapidly,” Clark said. “We’ve gotten better this week. It helps to have four solid days of practice.

“That was a big difference.”

All that work will be put to the test against a Venice team that has stormed out to a 2-0 record. In two games, the Gondoliers have scored at least 40 points each week, giving Clark reason for concern.

Zelon, a leader on defense, said he expects Venice to run a number of boot legs giving quarterback Alfonso Medina opportunities to make things happen on offense. His primary weapon is wide receiver Larry Clark, who caught four passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns against Muir last week.

Coach Clark is a believer in his defense’s ability to stop Venice despite the loss of linebacker Cody Williams, who injured his spine during the season opener against Leuzinger. Williams is still recovering in a local hospital.

“The unit is coming back together,” he said. “Cody was a sensational football player.

“We just have to pick up the pieces and get going.”

The injury to Williams has surprisingly helped the team, which was rocked by the injury, come together and has given them motivation each week, Coach Clark said. The team has also replaced its familiar “Samo” chant to “Cody” to support their fallen teammate.

“The entire community of Santa Monica is rallying around the situation,” he said.

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