Right Quarterback Christian Salem from the Santa Monica High School Varsity football scrambles to his left to avoid being sacked by players from the Canyon Varsity football team at Santa Monica College as SAMO hosted Canyon in a non-league football game and won by a score of 42-0 to improve their record to 3-0 (photo by Morgan Genser)

COMPTON — Call it a bump in the road.

Santa Monica High School’s football team took a 3-0 record into Valencia and walked away with a 17-0 loss last Friday.

For most teams, that sort of loss could threaten to derail an entire season. For Samohi head coach Travis Clark, it was just a blip that shouldn’t affect the Vikings’ spirits heading into their final preseason game at Compton Centennial on Friday at 6 p.m.

“We still have our confidence,” Clark said. “We’re just trying to get back on a winning track.”

Despite suffering a 56-13 drubbing to Samohi last year, this edition of Centennial football is different. The Apaches come into the game 4-0 under second-year head coach Jimmy Nolan, who left a cushy job in Laguna Beach to lead the inner-city school.

Clark is impressed by the work Nolan has done, realizing that it’s a reflection of what he’s been able to do in such a short time-frame.

“They are feeling good about themselves,” Clark said of Centennial. “I think [Nolan’s] doing a great job. The kids bought in and I can tell he really cares about them.

“He’s over there trying to help those kids. I can respect that.”

After reviewing film on Centennial, Clark is impressed with the Apaches’ ability to run the ball. He singled out running back D’carre Watson as an athletic ball carrier capable of big gains.

He also noted the Apaches’ large offensive and defensive lines.

“They are bigger by a long shot,” he said. “For us, it will be about execution and eliminating mistakes.”

Samohi struggled with turnovers last week against Valencia, something that was new for a team that didn’t turn the ball over once during its 3-0 start. Clark sees it as a major factor in the loss and doesn’t want a repeat performance. To that end, he’s made the boys put in extra work on offense in practice to limit giveaways.

“If we can pull that off, we should be fine,” he added. “I don’t think it will be easy, but we’re confident.”

Confidence is a buzz word with Clark this season. He uses it to describe his players’ will to win and willingness to put in the work necessary to achieve the team’s goals that include an Ocean League title and a deep run into the Western Division playoffs.

A key to any success for the Vikings is their defense. Samohi has allowed just 32 points through four games, a stat Clark can hang his hat on. Leading the defense will again be senior linebacker Chris Collins, a player being recruited by Arizona, Washington State and Nevada, among others.

Clark said that any success the team has on the defensive side of the ball will come through Collins, who registered 14 tackles and a pair of sacks against a strong Valencia team last week.

Teaming with Collins on defense is senior transfer London Lewis. Not to be outdone, he was responsible for 10 tackles and a pair of sacks of his own last week. Clark said that his emergence at both safety and linebacker has been pivotal during the Vikings’ strong start.

“Those kids are running around making plays,” Clark said. “They play like grown men.”

Collins and Lewis will again have to come up big as the Vikings prepare to be without USC-commit lineman Chad Wheeler. The towering lineman suffered a separated shoulder in practice after the third game of the year. Wheeler is having the shoulder scoped on Friday with no return to the field certain. Clark said his presence will be missed, but insists that Wheeler’s health is much more important than a ball game or two.

“We’ll miss him,” Clark said. “But he has a bright future and we don’t want to jeopardize that.”

On the other side of the ball, Clark isn’t as certain. Despite scoring 110 points through the first three games of the campaign, the shutout by Valencia has Clark thinking that the offense needs to catch up to defense at this point.

Clark said last week’s problem with turnovers should stay there — in the past. He looks to senior quarterback Christian Salem as the key if his team is to regain its offensive prowess to open the season.

It’s a task Salem said that he’s up to.

“Considering we gave it to them bad last year,” he said, “we know that this will be a big game for them. It’s kind of a revenge game.”


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