CULVER CITY — For the first time in a decade, the Samohi Vikings are Ocean League champs.
Santa Monica High School’s football team secured the title with a give-and-take 17-14 win over rival Culver City Friday on the road.
When Samohi quarterback Christian Salem ran out the clock the entire Viking sideline erupted into a celebration that had players shedding tears, giving high-fives and reflecting on the journey to this joyous moment.
“I’ve never felt this way before,” senior running back Kori Garcia said amid the post-game celebration. “We’ve been working toward this for three years.”
The championship was particularly sweet for the Vikings who have been on the team the three years Head Coach Travis Clark has led Samohi.
Clark’s first year on campus ended with a 4-7 overall record and 3-2 league mark. The Vikings made the playoffs that year, but lost to Palmdale in the first round. Samohi showed growth last season as the Vikings finished 6-4 and again 3-2 in league, but missed the playoffs.
Garcia is part of a core of players that includes Chris Collins, Dylan Muscat, Donovan Citrowski and Salem that have been with Clark the whole time. It was that familiarity that Clark credits for this year’s success.
“This is a special group of kids,” Clark said. “They’ve put in work all three years to become champs. I couldn’t be more proud of them”
The game itself had all the markings of a championship bout.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Samohi struck first with an eight-yard touchdown run by Salem that gave the Vikings a 7-0 second quarter lead.
On the ensuing Culver City drive, Kevin Porche scored on a one-yard run of his own that tied the game early in the second quarter.
The teams exchanged jabs through the third quarter with neither able to connect. It wasn’t until the fourth that Samohi kicker Elliot Stahler booted a 40-yard field goal that put the Vikings up, 10-7.
On the following Culver City possession, a bad toss from quarterback Porche to running back Ronald Jones was recovered by Citrowski, setting up the Vikings to increase their lead.
Samohi’s Garcia, who was returning from a mild concussion, carried the load for the Vikings down the stretch. The senior being recruited by a number of Ivy League schools scored the deciding touchdown with 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Garcia’s TD put the Vikings up 17-7, but the game was far from done. Culver City responded with a 72-yard pass from quarterback Lukas O’Connor to wide receiver Alex Jackson just seconds later that brought them to within 3, but couldn’t convert on the ensuing onside kick attempt that allowed Samohi to run out the clock for the win and league crown.
The victory secured the title, but there’s still football to play. Samohi closes out the year on the road at Hawthorne on Friday.
When asked if his team can close strong, Clark just laughed and said: “There’s no quit in these guys. We’ll be fine.”