CORSAIR FIELD — Samohi’s first home playoff game in a decade will have a touch of the familiar.
When Santa Monica High School’s football team takes the field against Channel Islands in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs on Friday, they may have the feeling that their looking at something very similar.
Both teams like to run the ball between the tackles. Both teams rely on defense to keep games close. And, for good measure, both teams’ head coaches can’t help but get the impression that they are working from the same playbook.
“They really remind us of ourselves,” Samohi head coach Travis Clark said. “It’s weird, it’s like looking into a mirror.”
Considering the similarities, Clark said that he’s devising a few wrinkles for his game plan to keep Channel Islands guessing.
He was mum on what those alterations would be, but insisted that the Vikings will approach the game very much the same way they have all season in building a 9-1 overall record and impressive 5-0 mark in Ocean League play.
Samohi’s style of football has been carefully molded to mimic its coach’s intense style and emphasis on physical play. They run the ball with a stable of running backs led by senior Kori Garcia. When Garcia needs a breather, they answer with another tough runner in London Lewis, who is returning after missing the season finale due to a sore knee. If that’s not enough, they also look to fullback Donovan Citrowski to continue to punish defenses that have learned that they have to stack the box to slow Samohi’s roll.
For a change of pace, the Vikings answer with Miguel Cardiel and Will Taylor, who have been asked to provide depth at a position so key to the Vikings’ success.
Channel Islands on the other hand is more of a feature back type of offense, relying on Richard Gray to get the bulk of the carries.
Like Samohi, Channel Islands is certainly run-first, but they aren’t averse to airing it out at times.
When in passing situations, quarterback Steven Gutierrez is prone to target tight end Jeremiah Valoaga, a towering presence who has caught more than 50 passes this season.
Clark considers Valoaga Channel Islands’ top big play threat and is game planning accordingly.
Samohi’s defensive backfield has been a strength all season, but there are no players tall enough to obviously matchup with the 6 foot, 7 tight end. Clark said that linebacker Chris Collins is somebody who may be up to the tall order. Collins, who has been recruited by Boise State among others, stands 6 foot, 2 and is physical enough to handle the difficult assignment.
“Who can you put on a guy like that?” Clark said. “He’s the kind of guy who can box you out to make the catch. We’ll have a challenge all night.”
For Channel Islands head coach Gary Porter, the challenge will be keeping up with a Samohi squad that, while similar, has more overall team speed.
After watching tape on the Vikings, Porter said that his defense will have its hands full with Samohi’s play makers.
“We’re just looking to stop the whole offense, not just the run,” Porter said. “They like to run between the tackles, but they like to take a shot deep every once in a while.”
Samohi junior Sebastian LaRue has emerged as quarterback Christian Salem’s favorite target, but guys like Anthony “Animal” Hernandez and Collins have, at times, been used to surprise defenses with big gains.
“We’ll have to play solid defense if we’re going to keep up,” Porter said of his 7-3 Raiders, who finished the season in second place in the Pacific View League. “They are all pretty talented.”
The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at SMC’s Corsair Field.