HAWTHORNE — When the Samohi Vikings traveled to Hawthorne on Friday, they had prepared for a do-or-die situation. The Vikings needed a win over the Cougars in order to secure the third and final seed in the playoffs from the Ocean League.
But when the buzzer sounded, announcing the Vikings’ 56-0 victory, there wasn’t a shred of suspense left in the stadium. Samohi qualified for the playoffs and Hawthorne ended the season without a victory.
The shutout Samohi delivered started even before the clock got warmed up. The Cougars lost the coin toss, Santa Monica received, and senior wide receiver Mike Smith returned the ball over 80 yards for a touchdown in the first 15 seconds.
From there, things only got worse for Hawthorne.
The Vikings went on to score four touchdowns in the initial seven minutes of the game on a carry by senior fullback Wylie O’Neil, a recovered Cougar fumble in the end zone, and a 10-yard end zone reception by Smith, closing the first quarter with a whopping 28-0 advantage.
With another two touchdowns in the second quarter, the Vikings ended the first half with a 42-0 lead.
When action resumed, it took the Vikings just under seven minutes to score their seventh touchdown on a short carry by senior halfback Luke Zelon.
At that point, a mercy rule went into effect allowing the clock to run continuously except for timeouts.
The shortened second half didn’t stop the Vikings from scoring an additional touchdown before the game’s end, this time by sophomore second-string quarterback Christian Salem on an 11-yard keeper.
The game’s result was understandably as disastrous for the Cougars as it was triumphant for the Vikings, marking the end of Hawthorne’s fourth consecutive winless season under Head Coach James Swain.
As the regular season ended easily, Vikings’ Head Coach Travis Clark said he was proud of his team’s accomplishment.
“I feel good about having an opportunity to go to the playoffs,” he said after the game. “We made some mistakes that I don’t like, but for the most part, I’ll take the donut. I think the guys deserved it.”
The win was not all sweet, however, as sophomore running back Kori Garcia left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury that occurred after the whistle.
Garcia had been standing near a pile as it was being broken up, and was accidentally knocked down by a Hawthorne player, pinching his left ankle between two players on the ground and injuring it.
Now, with an eye on the upcoming postseason, Clark and the Vikings are looking to improve upon their run defense in anticipation of what will likely be a series of battles for short yards.
“I think our main thing is, and I told my boys this during this week, we’ve got to stop the run,” Clark said. “Playoff football is about being able to run and throw the ball and we’ve got to stop the run and that will give us the opportunity to be in the game.”
But despite the challenges that wait ahead, team leaders said they are excited, not worried, about their next game.
“I’m very excited,” said senior quarterback Garrett Safron. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve just got to get out there, do what we’ve got to do, get that W, and shock some people.”
Zelon echoed Safron’s enthusiasm, remarking that this season’s playoffs will be familiar but not unchallenging territory for Zelon personally.
“This is my third year in the row getting a playoff berth and hopefully we’ll make a run,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay on it, be disciplined and work hard."
Samohi will take on Palmdale in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Western Division 2009 Championships Friday on the road. The game will begin at 7 p.m.