CORSAIR FIELD — For two teams sporting gaudy records, it seems that each head coach is looking for a little respect.

The second round CIF-Southern Section Western Division matchup between Santa Monica and Ventura high schools on Friday features the teams with the best records in the field, but to hear the coaches tell it, they are both somehow underdogs.

Ventura, entering the game a perfect 11-0, and its head coach Brad Steward consider themselves a bit off the radar. On the Samohi sideline, head coach Travis Clark and his boys liken it to a struggle much like the story of David and Goliath.

On Friday at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field, the tale will play out.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens,” said Clark, who has guided the Samohi Vikings to a 10-1 record and Ocean League title this season. “I think we’re capable of winning this game. I know [Ventura] will try and get it, they have major goals as we do, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my boys.

“I think they are going to try and seize the moment.”

The Vikings do have home-field advantage, something Clark appreciates, but the feeling that they are being taken lightly lingers on.

He said that his team is embracing the challenge and obvious tension of the game. The team’s practices since last week’s win over Channel Islands have been “some of the best of the season.”

“They want to go after this challenge,” Clark added. “They realize that it’s a one-and-done situation and they aren’t ready to stop playing this year.”

Clark feels that this is the year to put the Ocean League on the map. With Culver City’s unlikely win over No. 1 seeded Serra last week, Clark sees this as a coming out party for the league that has two of the eight teams remaining in the field.

“We’re trying to change what people think about the Ocean League,” he said. “We have to get some respect around here.”

But even with confidence in his team, Clark is leery to proclaim the win in the bag.

After watching four games worth of film on Ventura, Clark sees a team that’s “as good as advertised.”

He considers the teams they’ve faced this season pretty talented, with Ventura ranking up there with the vaunted Valencia program that handed the Vikings their only loss of the season.

Clark sees a team disciplined in its execution and unified in its effort — both attributes key for any team to succeed.

After reviewing footage, Clark is particularly impressed by the tandem of quarterback and running back. The latter, Conner Armstrong, rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns during the first round against Dominguez, a feat all the more impressive considering his stature. Standing 5 foot 7 and weighing in at 170 pounds, Armstrong runs like a much larger back. While he is prone to break off large gains, he’s equally adept at running between the tackles, Ventura’s Steward said.

For Clark, he doesn’t see anything in Armstrong’s size that will give his Vikings an edge. He’ll approach him the same way they have every running back this season.

“Some of their guys are small, but they get after it,” Clark said. “You can’t judge an individual’s heart. They are small in stature, but we’re not going to look at their size as an excuse.”

Also on the smallish size is Ventura quarterback Rodney Stanley. Again, Clark isn’t fooled into thinking he’s any less dangerous because of it. Helping the Ventura Cougars make up for the lack of size among the skill position players is tight end Nick Rudolph, who is considered one of the top prospects at his position in the state.

Standing 6 foot 4, Rudolph poses two issues for the Samohi defense. He’s taller than any of the Vikings’ defensive backs and he plays more like a wide receiver than tight end.

That stretches the field, something Clark knows has the tendency to open up the running game. He’ll work at bottling up Rudolph, much like Samohi did against Channel Islands’ Jeremiah Valoaga, a towering presence who caught more than 50 passes this season.

The Vikings were able to slow him enough to take the passing game out of the equation. That helped Samohi stack the box against Richard Gray, another highly touted running back from Ventura County.

That mix resulted in a win last week and Clark is confident that it may result in another win and a trip to the third round.

“My boys are capable of playing with anybody in high school,” he said. “These kids like to fly around and hit people. And they can cover, too.”

To that end, a defensive backfield that features Kori Garcia, Dylan Muscat and Mathew Rusk-Kosa will be called on to keep Rudolph out of the end zone and come up in support against the run. It’s been a recipe that has held opponents to just 144 total points all season.

Ventura too has been able to keep opponents in check. Giving up just 96 points all season, Ventura poses problems for a Samohi offense reliant on running the ball with Garcia and passing to junior wide receiver Sebastian LaRue, who scored three touchdowns via the passing attack last week. He added another score on a kickoff return, a threat that Steward is taking very seriously.

“They like to run the ball,” he said of Samohi. “But we also know that they like to take shots down the field and can break big plays at any time.

“It looks like it will be quite a game.”

The game is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.

daniela@www.smdp.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *