CORSAIR FIELD — Football fans who turned out for Friday night’s rivalry matchup between the Samohi Vikings and the Venice High School Gondoliers were not disappointed by a blowout.
Though Venice sealed the 31-28 victory with a field goal with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, what transpired during the two hours preceding was nothing short of a battle.
With much thanks to Samohi quarterback Garrett Safron, who scrambled for two first downs on the Vikings’ first offensive drive, Samohi got up early with a 7-0 lead by the middle of the first quarter.
After that the action sputtered.
Both teams struggled to move the ball for the remainder of the first quarter and neither converted a first down until three minutes into the second period when Safron connected with senior wide receiver Chris Featherstone for a first down on third and four.
Four plays later, after another third down conversion on a run from junior running back Brandon Taylor, Safron passed short to Featherstone for another touchdown, putting Santa Monica up 14-0.
Venice didn’t have to rally to get back in the game, though, as captain and senior wide receiver Jonathan McNeal streaked for a huge return and touchdown on the kickoff, finding a hole on the left sideline and criss-crossing the field at the 50 on his way.
With that, Samohi’s momentum was stunted, and the Vikings were only able to drive up field for a fruitless 42-yard field goal attempt by senior Jake Schmidt. Schmidt’s kick had the distance, but sailed right for the miss.
Venice found the upper hand early in the second half with a 73-yard touchdown run by senior running back Aaron Jones, tying the game at 14 with 7:15 remaining in the third period.
On the following offensive drive, Santa Monica was forced to punt on fourth and two, at which point Venice junior wide receiver Teondray Caldwell returned the kick for a 60-yard touchdown, breaking two tackles and shaking two more defenders along the way.
With the score resting at 21-14 in favor of Venice, Santa Monica would drive forward again, ramming in a touchdown on third and 8 with a pass to senior wide receiver Mike Smith. Safron also made major completions to Featherstone and was helped by runs from senior backs Shane Jones and Luke Zelon. The extra point was no good, leaving Venice in the lead, 21-20.
The Gondoliers only needed eight plays to charge back up the field to make it 28-21 shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, pushed down the field with major plays by McNeal and senior running back Aaron Jones.
With an eight point defecit and 9:02 remaining in the fourth period, Samohi needed a drive and fast.
Safron, with receivers stacked to his right, led the Vikings up the field, frequently rolling out of the pocket to his strong side and passing up the sideline to Zelon, Featherstone and Smith. On a couple of key plays, including that which brought Santa Monica its fourth touchdown, Safron threw cross-field to Smith, confusing Venice defenders after heavy strong-side throws.
Moments later, a trick play landed a pass from Zelon in Safron’s hands for a two-point conversion, tying the game once more at 28-28 with 2:15 left to play.
With just moments remaining, Venice senior quarterback Alfonso Medina, Jones and Caldwell rushed up the field, combining for 65 yards in eight plays and planting the Gondoliers in position for senior kicker Connor Gil’s successful 25-yard successful field goal attempt for the win.
“I thought it would be better to get (Safron) going on his strong side and get into those routes. And it was working, obviously,” said Vikings coach Travis Clark.
Clark explained that Safron had injured his thumb during Thursday’s practice, and that while Vencie had successfully cracked down on the strong-side movement by crashing with safety Gibran Zahedi-Mitchell, Safron was able to successfully throw across the field at key moments.
“It’s all internal,” Clark added later. “I’d take that kid over anyone else in high school. Some of those things are just innate for quarterbacks. Safron’s a good kid.”
Though the Gondoliers took home the rivalry win this year, Venice coach Angelo Gasca could only tip his hat to his players and the opposing Vikings.
“It was a heck of a game. I give a lot of credit to Travis and his team, but we had a lot of big plays on offense,” Gasca said. “(Medina) is a senior and he’s just a big-time player I think. He came up big at the right time for us.”