The Venice High School Gondoliers may have been tested in their 20-17 non-league victory over Santa Monica High School Friday, September 23rd, but Venice coach Angelo Gasca said that a challenge from the rival Vikings is just what his team expected.

The match-up between Venice and Santa Monica always provides a “neighborhood rivalry” with a big crowd, and this year’s game at Santa Monica College Corsair Field was no different, Gasca said.

“We just expect a dogfight whenever we play each other,” Gasca said. “They gave us a great game but we came out on top.”

After getting its first loss of the season against Loyola High School September 16th, Venice (2-1) was prepared to make up for it with a victory over Santa Monica.

“It was real important to get the season rolling,” Venice senior free safety Jonas Mouton said of the Santa Monica win. “It was a little closer than we expected. They came out to play.”

The Vikings (2-1) had opened the season with two victories and were ready to continue the momentum against Venice, which is considered one of the top teams in Los Angeles.

“We played right with them play for play,” Santa Monica coach Mike Burnett said. “We didn’t back down.

“We played our game and we had them on the ropes.”

Santa Monica, which took a 17-13 lead in the third quarter, did appear to have Venice on the ropes for most of the remainder of the game, until Venice put together a late scoring drive.

With five minutes left in the game, Venice senior running back Kenny Ashley, who finished with 20 carries for 155 yards rushing, got the drive started with a 39-yard run.

Sophomore quarterback Richard Ragland then put the Gondos in scoring position after a 31-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jerome Lowe and an eight-yard pass to Mouton.

Ashley completed the drive by putting Venice back in the lead 20-17 with a one-yard touchdown run with 50.9 seconds remaining.

“It was a great feeling,” Ragland said of his passing completions that set up the winning touchdown.

“We had to step our game up.”

Venice was the first team to score in the game despite a Ragland pass that was intercepted by Santa Monica senior defensive end Trevon Obiekea in Venice’s first drive.

Ragland made up for the interception after an eight-minute drive that ended with a tipped touchdown pass to junior James Hood with 32.6 seconds left in the first quarter.

Despite another Ragland interception in Venice’s first drive of the second quarter, Gasca said the team will call passing plays in addition to the strong running game in order to create a balanced offense.

“We’re striving for balance,” he said. “Richard made some huge plays tonight.”

Ragland finished 15-of-23 for 173 yards passing in the game.

Santa Monica took advantage of the second Ragland interception, which was picked off by senior Carlton Fortenberry, and scored in its ensuing drive.

Viking sophomore running back E.J. Woods, who finished with 11 carries for 53 yards rushing, evened the game at 7-7 after a ten-yard touchdown run.

But Venice capitalized after recovering its punt in the next drive. Ashley punished the Vikings for the mistake with a 45-yard touchdown run that gave Venice a 13-7 lead with 3:38 left in the second quarter.

The Vikings cut the Venice Gondos lead to 13-10 after a 40-yard field goal kick by senior Jordan Rosenheck to end the first half.

Santa Monica opened the second half ready to play, as junior running back Lewis Adeyemi brought the Vikings down the field to set up their second touchdown.

A 29-yard pass by Viking sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz was caught by junior wide receiver Geo Allen over Venice senior Greg Herd to give Santa Monica a 17-13 lead with 7:51 left in the third quarter.

Katz finished 13-of-23 for 138 yards passing for the Vikings.

After trailing the Vikings for most of the remainder of the game, Ragland said his team had to “regroup and concentrate” to come back and take the victory.

“We had to focus and play our game,” he said.