CORSAIR FIELD — The Santa Monica Vikings had to shake things up if they wanted to have a shot against Inglewood on Friday.
In what was expected to be a heated fight between two teams of equal conference records, each running 2-1 in Ocean League play prior to the game, the pressure was on for the Vikings, who put forth a tremendous effort, but eventually fell to the Sentinels, 19-18.
The Vikings fell behind quickly in the homecoming matchup, surrendering a touchdown to Inglewood in the third minute on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Shashaun Alexander to wide receiver James Grace, both of whom are seniors.
But the Samohi squad was not easily discouraged, battling back and marking up three on a successful 38-yard field goal by senior kicker Jake Schmidt.
Following another Sentinel touchdown near the end of the first period on an Alexander keeper in the red zone, the Vikings were set to fight their way out of a corner once again, and in order to prevail against the talented Inglewood defense, some serious offensive punches would be necessary.
So senior quarterback Garrett Safron began to throw.
“I talked to [Inglewood] coach [Charles] Mincy earlier and he let his game plan out: he said he was going to bring heat. I knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming,” said Samohi Head Coach Travis Clark about shaping his pass offense against Inglewood. “Everybody’s been bringing heat on [Safron] because you’ve got to put pressure on him. So we just tried to get him out of the pocket, change it up a little bit.”
The Vikings had Safron line up in the shotgun on a number of plays against Inglewood, allowing him a bit more room and time when passing, and encouraged him to swing out of the pocket on occasion, Clark said.
The senior, who passed for 96 yards, benefited from the extra time, scrambling from trouble and connecting with senior wide receiver Mike Smith on a 58-yard sideline pass which set the Vikings up a few plays later for a 6-yard touchdown pass to senior halfback Luke Zelon.
Another long and successful Schmidt field goal, this time for 40 yards, would tie the game at 12-12 to close the first half.
But pushing the ball back from the line of scrimmage, especially during the second half, proved dangerous for the Vikings, who lost a total of 33 yards in sacks on Safron.
Though they were able to force another touchdown by the end of the third minute of the final period, a second failed extra point by Schmidt left the Vikings poised precariously with only a 6-point advantage.
Just more than two minutes after taking their fist lead of the game, the Santa Monica defense surrendered another touchdown on another Alexander keeper, and after a successful extra point, the Sentinels had chalked up the final points of the game.
For the remaining seven minutes, the Vikings struggled to put something together, eventually punting it away and watching Inglewood kneel their way to a victory.
Following the game, Clark expressed both pride and disappointment in Schmidt, but insisted that he remains proud of his team despite the loss.
“I’m more proud of them in this loss than any win we’ve had all season,” he said. “I feel like my boys are winners tonight.”
Aside from the failed extra points after, which proved especially detrimental in the single-point defeat, team leaders said that personal breakdowns at other positions were also key factors in determining the game’s result.
“Nothing really went wrong, we just needed to execute more,” said Smith, who had 81 receiving yards on the evening. “On one of the plays, I could have had the chance to catch the ball, but I saw the safety and I just shied away. I just need to focus on catching the ball and taking the hit.”
The loss, which brings the Vikings’ record to 2-2 in league, will mean that the team will not qualify for either of the top two seeds in the Ocean League playoffs. Though all chances of a playoff run are not lost, Santa Monica will need a victory next week over Hawthorne — a team without a win this season — in order to secure the third and final automatic bid from the league.
“I don’t think anyone really realizes the situation that we’re in — that we’re still in the playoffs,” Zelon said. “I think we’ll come back next week.”