Fans and longtime coaches alike had to agree after Long Beach Poly’s 26-3 stunner over Narbonne: there was something decidedly old-school about that Jackrabbit defense.
Poly was supposed to lose the game with the Gauchos, and probably handily. Narbonne was ranked No. 12 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and the CalPreps.com game simulation had the Jackrabbits losing 35-7. It’s understandable given that Narbonne had loaded up on top-end transfers on the offensive side of the ball, including two Poly players.
The prognosticators didn’t count on the Poly defense being legit.
They’d been the stars of the previous week against Dorsey, holding the Dons scoreless and on the wrong side of the 50 for the first three quarters, until the second unit went in. Poly’s starters gave up less than 50 yards of total offense, had six sacks, three takeaways, and a touchdown.
Still: it was Dorsey. Not exactly a powerhouse program this year, and clearly overmatched in their game against Poly. Narbonne was expected to be different because they started the season nationally ranked, with state title hopes.
Instead, the result was much the same. Poly’s defense yielded just three points, and that was on a Narbonne drive that started in the Poly red zone after a muffed punt return. The defense had five takeaways this time, including all four of the team’s touchdowns: three of them on interception returns by Kejuan Markham, and another on a strip sack/fumble recovery combo by Elijah Dolphin and Bryson Parham.
It wasn’t just that prolific scoring effort: the defense was dominant in every way. They had fourth-down stands to force turnovers on downs. Every time they needed to come up with a big play, they did.
Most impressive was the team’s defensive line, which features no major recruits or superstar players–but does have four guys who should now be drawing that kind of attention. Dolphin now has six sacks, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and an interception return for a touchdown in just two games.
Chuck Taylor, one of Poly’s rare transfers, has been wreaking havoc and last week had a sack despite having run out of his right cleat. Tim Gomez is a run-plugger in the middle who had two tackles for a loss against Narbonne. Parham had three sacks against Narbonne along with the touchdown.
But the hallmark of Poly defenses in the past was a grittiness, a willingness of role players to step into the limelight. Daylen Fuller fills that role at linebacker this year: far from the most physically imposing member of the defense, but seemingly always in the right place to make a big tackle or hit.
The team’s secondary is as good as it’s been in years, and gave up just 64 yards passing on 24 attempts to Narbonne’s vaunted aerial attack, with four interceptions.
There’s still plenty to see about this year’s Poly defense: they’ll face big tests against Los Alamitos Friday (at Cerritos College) and at home against Serra on Sept. 7. But they’ve got five touchdowns, seven takeaways, and 12 sacks through two games, and just three points allowed by the team’s starters.
That might not be the Poly defense of old–but if not, it’s not far off, either.