CULVER CITY — Going into their third Ocean League contest, the Samohi Vikings had expected to face a challenge. The team traveled to Culver City to battle the Centaurs, then 8-1 and, like the Vikings, undefeated in league play at 2-0.
What the Vikings didn’t expect was to find themselves on the wrong side of a 28-0 mountain with four minutes remaining in the first half, outrun, outblocked and outmatched by the talented Centaur squad, and still an entire half game’s length away from what would become a 49-28 road loss for the Vikings, bringing their league record to 2-1.
“We couldn’t give up big plays. We had to tackle well and we didn’t do that early,” said Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark. “I told myself and I told my team if we can hold them to 30 or under then we’ll be fine. But we can’t give them 49 or we’re in trouble.”
Samohi planned ahead for the game, expecting an aerial assault from senior quarterback Marquel Carter. But the Vikings were short on the tools to defend against the pass without the help of sophomore cornerback Kori Garcia, who was suspended for Friday’s game after throwing a punch at a Beverly Hills player the week before.
“(The Centaurs) pass 45 times a game, so we’ll have to be ready for that,” said Chris Featherstone in anticipation after the Vikings’ win over Beverly Hills.
For the most part, the Centaurs didn’t pass for long yards; screen passes, five-yard outs and short dumps composed a large portion of their passing gains, but even these modest movements made a big difference.
Helped by receptions from senior wide receivers Edwin Tillman, Ijumaa Armstrong and Devin Sylvester, the Centaurs put up four unanswered touchdowns before the half was even close to ending.
Samohi’s only points of the first half came a few minutes later when senior quarterback Garrett Safron hammered one in from the 2, propelled across the plain by a push in the back by junior running back Brandon Taylor. The Vikings finished the half down 28-6.
After the break, things didn’t improve much.
The Centaurs scored three more touchdowns on big passes to Tillman, Sylvester, and on a Tidwell fumble recovery off a dropped pitch to Taylor, in that order.
But with the start of the fourth quarter came a change in luck for the Vikings who defied their 49-6 deficit and scored three touchdowns in three minutes. The first resulted from a 5-yard touchdown run by Donovan Citrowski, the second from a 63-yard completion to senior half back Luke Zelon, and the third on a Safron scramble, bringing the score to its final count with two minutes remaining.
“I thought we had a pretty good game plan,” said Clark after the game. “We marched down the field pretty well on them all day but we struggled in the red zone; some frustrating turnovers again killed us. You know, we can’t turn the ball over against this team, obviously. We’ve got to keep up with them.”
Though hurt by the loss, Clark also expressed pride in his players for their strong push at the end, remaking on how much of an improvement he’s seen in attitude and output since the team’s late-game rollover against Morningside earlier this season.
“I think the most disappointing part was we were really confident coming in to the game. We really thought we had these guys,” Zelon said.
The senior and captain added that the team had breakdowns on defense, especially in the secondary, that resulted in Centaur touchdowns.
“We just have to push through this and I know we can win,” said Taylor, who carried for a handful of large gains even long after the Vikings had fallen hopelessly behind. “We had too many turnovers; we’ve just got to hold the ball and push through it. Our line was doing pretty good, I’ve just got to hit the holes harder. I can get it.
“Next week will be better.”