Santa Monica High School had a share of the Ocean League title within its grasp after a late charge to the 13-yard line, but the Vikings’ effort ended there after three consecutive sacks by visiting Hawthorne High in a 17-13 loss Friday, November 12th.

Santa Monica (6-4, 3-2) entered the game at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field with a chance to share the Ocean League throne with Hawthorne, but the Cougars (7-3, 5-0) instead walked away as outright league champions.

“We fell behind early with the league title on the line,” Santa Monica coach Michael Burnett said. “We came here to get a league championship. We were playing for a win right from the start.”

The Vikings ended the regular season with a third-place finish in the league behind second-place Culver City, which is an impressive turnaround for Santa Monica considering the school’s 0-9-1 record last season.

The feat also awarded Santa Monica a trip to the Southern Section Division IV playoffs, where the Vikings will play at Ventura High School (8-2, 4-1) of the Channel League at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 19th.

The Vikings went into halftime trailing 17-7, but the team was determined to fight for the league title in the second half.

Quarterback Kevin Poindexter helped Santa Monica compensate for a struggling running game and brought the team within striking distance after a 58-yard touchdown pass to Christoff Neuman.

“We were pretty confident it would work,” said Poindexter, who finished five-of-13 for 152 yards passing in the game.

“We called it at the right time and everything connected.”

A blocked two-point conversion pass kept the Vikings down 17-13 with 2:11 left in the third quarter.

Santa Monica’s defense put the brakes on any further scoring momentum for Hawthorne and forced an incomplete pass by Cougar quarterback Vainiaku Na’a on fourth down early in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings took control over the football on their own 21-yard line and began an eight-minute charge down the field. Poindexter kept the victory hopes alive after running for a first down on a fourth-and-one play.

Running back Lewis Adeyemi rushed the Vikings closer to the end zone on a 15-yard run, but the Hawthorne defense made sure Santa Monica didn’t get any closer.

Poindexter was sacked by a Hawthorne defender for loss of yardage in each of Santa Monica’s next three drives, eliminating any title hopes for the Vikings.

“We didn’t pick up the blitz as well as we wanted,” Poindexter said. “They just overloaded one side and there were not enough guys to block them.”

The Cougars came into the game ready to prove their top position in the league and scored early when wide receiver Marcus Butler made a 26-yard touchdown reception from Na’a, who finished five-of-14 for 71 yards passing.

Santa Monica answered when Poindexter threw a 50-yard pass to Adeyemi, who scrambled around the field for a touchdown, tying the score at 7-7 with 5:07 remaining in the first quarter.

Hawthorne jumped ahead 17-7 in the first two drives of the second quarter after a field goal by Ricky Reyes and a 24-yard running touchdown by running back Alex Gaines, who had 23 carries for 122 yards rushing.

The Vikings’ chances to score in their next two possessions were stopped when Poindexter was intercepted and Jordan Rosenheck missed a field goal attempt to end the first half.

“The turnovers in the first half hurt us,” Burnett said. “They were more physical than us. They made good plays and they deserved to win.”

With the regular season over, Santa Monica will continue its ride of improvement this year in the playoffs and the Vikings are proud of how far they have gone to reach this part of the season.

“We’re real proud of ourselves to come back from the season of last year,” Poindexter said.

“It’s exciting and it’s great to have the turnaround,” Burnett said. “I think tonight we showed we’re right there.”

In other football games:

The Western League champion Venice High School Gondoliers sailed past host Hamilton High and into the playoffs with a commanding 41-8 victory Friday, November 12th.

Venice (7-2, 5-0) clinched its third-straight league championship in the previous game and capped off a seven-game winning streak in the regular season. The Gondos have been undefeated in league play for the past three seasons.

The league title earned Venice a fourth seed in the Los Angeles City Championship Division playoffs. The team will open at home against 13th seed Franklin High at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 18th.

Quarterback Robert Ambers, who led the league with 1,913 yards passing, helped Venice plow through Hamilton (1-10, 1-4) after completing 12 of 18 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

Running back Ken Ashley added to the easy victory with 15 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns. James Armstrong had two interceptions in the first quarter and Jonathan Ortega had four catches for 93 yards receiving.

Westchester High School was narrowly defeated 30-27 at University High School Friday, November 18th, but the Comets’ fourth place finish in the Western League earned the team a spot in the playoffs.

The Comets (3-7, 2-3) had a difficult regular season, with nine players suffering injuries, but the team effort was good enough to receive a 15th seed in the Los Angeles City Invitational Division playoffs.

Westchester will play at second seed North Hollywood (8-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 18th.

Quarterback Jeffery Ausbon completed three of seven passes for 77 yards and running back Gregory Ray led Westchester with 23 carries for 145 yards in the game against University (5-5, 3-2).

Gilbert Ramirez led St. Monica High School to its first Camino Real League victory with five rushing touchdowns in a 54-30 win at St. Anthony High Friday, November 12th.

The Mariners (4-6, 1-3) ended the season with a fourth-place finish in the league.

St. Monica was not able to reach the playoffs with the victory over St. Anthony (2-8, 0-4), but the team went out with some strong performances.

Ramirez had 34 carries for 244 yards rushing and wide receiver Jeremy Brooks, who led the league with 888 yards receiving, had four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Mitch Smith, who led the league with 1,752 yards passing, completed nine of 18 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns.

St. Bernard High School faced yet another difficult battle this season and ended the year winless after falling 48-6 to Del Rey League champion Crespi Carmelite High at home Friday, November 12th.

The Vikings (0-10, 0-5) had several strong performances throughout the season, but the inexperienced team struggled to put together a victory.

St. Bernard put a touchdown on the scoreboard late in the third quarter against Crespi (7-3, 5-0), after senior quarterback Anthony Fernandez connected with Marcus Mitchell on a 26-yard pass.

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