Santa Monica High School’s football team sold out two hours before their big CIF final game Friday night against Rio Hondo Prep (RHP). Even with their unfortunate loss, the Vikings walked away knowing they led their team to the finals for the first time since 2001.
Two hours before kickoff, the principal took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to say that the game was sold out. Students and the Santa Monica (SaMo) community were naturally disappointed by the news. Many turned back around to head home while others tried to sneak their way into the game – your author included. Even with an early arrival, junior Bella Medina was left outside the gate with her friends. Medina urgently wanted to show her Vikings boyfriend support but was left outside until half-time before being able to enter. Another student said he finally gave up sneaking in after getting yelled at a few times.
“Over the past 13-14 weeks, the number of people interested, supporting, and coming out to games, and traveling to away games has built every week,” said Athletic Director Coleen Davenport. “The kids can’t stop talking about it. It’s awesome.”
The anticipation had everybody wondering if they would finally win their first CIF Championship in more than 20 years. Nobody wanted to miss this game. Whether they were in the field or waiting outside, the SaMo community was present for one thing: to support the boys wearing the blue and white jerseys.
The team entered the field through an inflatable Viking in the cool night air as the crowd went wild. Cheers were heard outside the stadium as well from the families desperately regretting not purchasing their tickets earlier.
The Vikings started the game off strong, keeping RHP’s offense at bay. Vikings quarterback Wyatt Brown handed the ball over to running back senior Caden McCallum, who ran twenty-five yards. The Vikings then struck quickly, going up 7-0.
But RHP finally made their way into Viking territory. They ran a wild play that had senior quarterback and kicker, Alex Mustain, kick the ball down the field. The crowd yelled “Get the ball” as it landed on their notable blue turf. RHP’s sophomore Tyler Dang and Vikings Charles Cravings sprinted toward the football. Dang’s quicker hands wrestled the ball away from Cravings, keeping the ball in RHP’s possession and their momentum intact. Junior running back Nate Curtis sprinted his way to the 7-yard line before getting tackled. Junior Caeden Holcomb then ran it to the five. Seconds later, Curtis ran to the end zone, tying up the contest 7-7.
Early in the second quarter, the Vikings reclaimed the lead, 14-7 as sophomore Payton Seals caught a ball and ran it into the end zone. The excitement was felt throughout the stands as the numbers on the scoreboard increased yet again.
However, only a short time after, RHP worked their way up the field with a sustained drive. Eventually, sophomore Noah Penunuri caught the ball and dove into the end zone, closing the gap to 14-13. They missed a two-point conversion despite the Vikings being flagged for an illegal substitution for having twelve players on the field.
Finally, after waiting some time, families who were unable to enter the stadium at the beginning of the game were allowed to enter during halftime by purchasing their tickets online.
During halftime, the Vikings were preparing to watch what they hoped would be a victory by singing along to Christmas songs and others, including Starship by Nicki Minaj and I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston.
However, not too long into their second half, RHP was able to celebrate as senior Joshua Taflinger scored a touchdown. They then made a two-point conversion with a quick handoff to Penunuri and a fast run to the endzone, RHP was in the lead, 14-21.
The Vikings were behind, but with the extra point, junior Osbaldo Rivera tied the game after the team scored a third touchdown, making it 21-21. The game was beginning to intensify. Although the cheers were overwhelmingly heard from the SaMo community, RHP didn’t let it shake them. They quickly took over when Penunuri made his way to the endzone yet again. With another two-point conversion, Penunuri helped his team have an 8-point lead of 21-29.
The crowd was rapt with anticipation to see what would happen next. Those sitting on the away side cheered for RHP as they watched them take the lead. The SaMo community kept their hopes alive and got louder as they chanted “DE-FENSE,” swaying left and right along with the cool Santa Monica breeze.
The pressure was on. With three seconds left in the championship game, the Viking’s Cravings caught the spiraling football that Brown had thrown towards the endzone. Gasps were audible as the Vikings made it 27-29 and the SaMo community leaped from their seats. They only needed to make a two-point conversion. To convert the 2-point play, Brown opted to throw again, but RHP Nathaniel Shines knocked it straight down and secured victory for the visitors. After eleven long years, RHP Division 9 became the CIF champions.
With this, the Vikings ended the night and the long season. They fell onto the field as they watched RHP run towards one another in a victory scrum. RHP celebrated their win by giving their coach a Gatorade bath and thanked him for taking them to the championship game.
After the game, the Vikings remained on the field to receive an award for taking the team to the CIF Championship Game. Some of the members of the team, along with the coach, were honored including Seals, McCallum, Paco Vandenbrook, and Jayden Montanez.
While the Vikings suffered a loss, the SaMo community showed great appreciation towards them for how far they had come this year. For them, it was the biggest game of the season. It was their first sold-out game with a max crowd of 2,350 people in the stadium.
As the boys walked out of the field with tears in their eyes, the faculty, friends, and families clapped with cheers of “Way to go!”
Photo by the author.