PALMDALE — Sometimes, a playoff game comes down to one player.
Tonight when Santa Monica travels to Palmdale in the first round of the Western Division California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Toyota Football Championships there is one such figure who has grabbed the attention of Samohi’s head coach — Joshua Shaw.
Shaw, who has committed to play for the University of Florida, not only plays quarterback, but he also patrols the defensive backfield and returns kicks for Palmdale. His mere presence is enough to give Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark reason to believe that stopping Shaw is the absolute key to the game.
“[Palmdale] has the best athlete we’ve seen all year,” Clark said of the two-way star. “He’s one of the best in Southern California.”
Although 11 men line up on either side of the line, the athleticism and play-making ability of Shaw is relied upon nearly every play to spark Palmdale (8-2 overall, 7-0 in Golden League play) on both sides of the ball.
Clark’s game plan is to put pressure on Shaw when he’s on defense, where Florida has recruited him to play next year. Shaw’s ability to shut down wide receivers has often led opposing offenses to throw away from his side of the field, but that isn’t exactly what Clark has in mind.
While winning one-on-one matchups against the ball-hawking Shaw won’t come easy, Clark believes that targeting him is the best way to wear him down so he can’t be as active on offense, where he does most of his damage. Armed with the ability to scramble, and a cadre of wide receivers capable of making big plays, Shaw usually makes short work of opposing defenses. But, if he’s tired from chasing the likes of Samohi wide receivers Chris Featherstone and Mike Smith around the field all night, Clark believes his defensive unit may find stopping him a bit easier.
“I’m going to make [Shaw] work,” Clark said. “He’s going to be in for a football game.”
If Samohi is successful in slowing Palmdale’s offense, Clark likes his team’s chances with senior quarterback Garrett Safron leading the charge.
Safron may not be the physical specimen that Shaw is, but his knack for spreading the ball around has Palmdale Head Coach Jeff Williams devising ways to slow Samohi’s passing attack.
Williams also likes the play of Samohi running back Kori Garcia, who also plays defensive back.
“We have to try to stop the run against anyone we play,” Williams said. “That is what we have to do this week [against Garcia].”
Aside from keeping Samohi’s offense in check, Williams said that the real battle will be on the offensive and defensive lines. He flatly believes that dominating the point of attack will decide the game.
For Samohi (4-6 overall, 3-2 in Ocean League play), the defensive line has been somewhat problematic. Senior Jose Perez has been in and out of the lineup all season forcing Clark to move linebackers Luke Zelon and Keelan Malone to man the defensive front.
Clark said that their senior leadership, and that of the other seniors hoping to extend their final season of high school ball, will go a long way toward a victory.
This week, he asked his seniors, “if you knew that this is the last high school football game and possibly your last game ever, how would you play it?”
He said that it rang true to his graduating class, forcing them to have some of their best practices of the season this week.
“It has been a long season for those players,” Clark said. “I appreciate those guys.”
He singled out seniors AJ Perez, Jared Onouye, Zelon, Safron and Smith for their dedication to the program for the past four years and appreciates that they made his first year coaching the team all the more enjoyable.
“I look forward to the seniors playing a good game [tonight],” he said. “Hopefully, this isn’t their last game.
“We’d love to send Mr. Shaw to Florida early.”