LANCASTER A 1-3 record doesn’t sound like much, but in the Western Division of the American Conference its good enough to remain in the hunt for a league title.

Santa Monica College takes to the road to take on new league rival Antelope Valley College on Saturday to determine which 1-3 team takes a somewhat commanding lead in a conference that has struggled for wins this season.

“A win this week puts us in the drivers seat,” SMC head football coach Robert Taylor said.

A promising 38-24 win during the Corsairs’ league and home opener last week against Los Angeles Valley College has the veteran coach optimistic heading into a game against a team that he predicted during the preseason would vie for a conference championship.

“We should be in pretty good shape in this game,” Taylor said. “Being on the road is not going to be new to us.”

The game will be SMC’s fourth road game of the season, a place the Corsairs have had trouble winning ball games. The team was forced to take to the road early in the season while an artificial playing surface was installed at Corsair Field. All three previous road games have resulted in blowout losses.

With both squads victorious last week, this game features players and coaches hoping to build on that success and potentially challenging for conference supremacy.

“We’re feeling pretty good right now,” Antelope Valley head coach Perry Jehlicka said. “(Last week) was our best game that we played all season. We were far from perfect, but the year is still young.”

Jehlicka hopes his starting quarterback, sophomore Rodney Dorsette, returns from a high ankle sprain, but he’s comfortable with freshman back up John Perez running the offense. Perez lead the Marauders to a 28-14 victory last week against Santa Barbara City College. Dorsette, who the coach describes as “a little bigger and stronger” than Perez, led the team to a 9-2 record last season.

Although this is the first meeting in recent memory, SMC’s Taylor said he knows enough about the team to prepare his defense for a potent running attack.

“They are not a confusing team,” Taylor said. “Their offense has a couple of good running backs. I’m hoping they try to run the football more than throw it.”

Aside from stopping the run, a key to a second SMC victory comes down to disciplined play on both sides of the ball. The Corsairs compiled 10 penalties in last week’s win over Valley College, a fact that tempers the coach’s enthusiasm over the game.

“We’re gong to limit these penalties,” he said. “We have the whole team working on it. Our offensive line is guilty of a lot of things. I don’t expect them to play perfect, but we need to cut down penalties to three, maybe four.”

On offense, SMC has exhibited the ability to gain tough yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Daron Bartholomew ran for 130 yards against Valley College. Fellow running back sophomore Cedric Hayes spelled Bartholomew on occasion with a degree of success. Most surprising was freshman quarterback Ryan Burns’ ability to throw the ball down field during last week’s victory. Making his first start of his career, he tossed a couple of deep touchdown passes.

The successes of last week gave Taylor a reason to think that perhaps his squad has turned it around after starting the season 0-3.

“We finally made some big plays,” he said. “I believe in my heart that they now know what winning is and what it takes to get it done.”

daniela@smdp.com