With their playoff hopes on the line, the Santa Monica High School Vikings rose to the occasion with authority, earning a 44-21 Ocean League victory over visiting Inglewood High School Friday, November 2nd.
In their last home game of the regular season at Santa Monica College Corsair Field, the Vikings (5-4, 2-2) knew that they couldn’t afford another league loss against Inglewood (4-5, 2-2) if they were going to make it to the post season.
They had come off of two narrow defeats to league opponents Beverly Hills (28-26) and Culver City (30-27) high schools in the previous two weeks and a third consecutive loss to the Inglewood Sentinels would have most likely ended any chances for the Southern Section playoffs.
“It was real important,” Santa Monica senior quarterback Ryan Katz said of the victory over Inglewood on senior night. “We were on a two-game losing streak, so it was win-or-go-home.
“Our seniors really stepped it up and took a role and said we had to get this victory.”
Vikings coach Zach Cuda also referred to the game’s significance in the playoff hunt and said it was “encouraging” to see his team bounce back from the two recent narrow losses to Beverly Hills and Culver City.
“Our playoff fate was riding on it,” Cuda said of the Inglewood game. “It was a must-win situation.”
The Vikings are particularly eager to reach the playoffs this season after they barely missed out on the post season last year, and they have given themselves a chance with one regular season game left.
Inglewood had defeated Beverly Hills in its previous league game, so the Vikings made sure to take the early edge to avoid becoming the Sentinels’ next victim.
The Santa Monica offense went on cruise control in the first half, scoring four touchdowns to take a 28-0 lead at halftime, and added another score early in the second half before the Sentinels got their first points of the game.
After both teams were forced to punt in their first drive of the game, Santa Monica picked up its first points on a two-yard touchdown run by junior Christian Ross, who finished with 13 carries for 129 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Katz then found senior wide receiver Jon Dunn in the corner of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown pass in the ensuing drive to give the Vikings a 13-0 lead with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter. Dunn finished with six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Inglewood struggled to execute on offense throughout the first half and Santa Monica took advantage of another Sentinel punt early in the second quarter, when Terry Wilson returned the ball to the Inglewood 29-yard line. The play helped set up another touchdown on a four-yard pass by Katz to wide receiver Taylor Wright.
“We were really efficient today,” said Katz, who finished nine-of-16 passing for 207 yards and four touchdowns in the game. “We caught every ball that was thrown and took advantage of the opportunities we had.”
Another 15-yard touchdown pass by Katz to Dunn as time expired gave the Vikings a commanding 28-0 advantage at the half.
On its first play of the second half, Santa Monica returned to the end zone after Wright caught an 82-yard pass by Katz for a touchdown.
But this time Inglewood responded with a long play of its own, an 80-yard pass by quarterback Marlon Johnson to Shaquelle Evans for the Sentinels’ first score of the night.
The play came a little too late for Inglewood, as Santa Monica added another Ross touchdown and a 35-yard field goal by senior Alex Kovacs to secure the victory.
The Sentinels picked up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to cut the score to 44-21. Johnson led the Sentinels by completing three of six passes for 106 yards.
While they kept their playoff hopes alive, the Vikings will need to overcome one more league opponent to get a crack at the post-season.
“We still have a shot to get in and we’ll hope for the best,” Cuda said.
The coach said the Vikings have been competitive in every league game this season and they will look to finish off league play victoriously to try to extend the season.
Santa Monica will finish the regular season against host Hawthorne High School at 7 p.m. Friday, November 9th.