Elijah Juarez has played at basically every position for Long Beach Poly the last two years: he’s been a receiver, a tight end, a linebacker, a fullback, and a punter. After Friday night’s breakout performance at running back, he may have found a permanent home. The senior helped break open a tight game against Millikan with three second-half touchdowns in a 46-15 Poly win.
Juarez practiced at fullback this week and the plan was to spoonfeed him–a plan that was thrown out the window when running back Jaden Wade went down with an injury, leaving Poly without its top two running backs.
“When he went down I knew I needed to step up,” said Juarez. It was obvious that he and his teammates were excited to come away with a big win against a Millikan team that looks to be Poly’s biggest competition in league this year, something the Rams were vocal about during the offseason.
“Coach says talk with your helmet and your pads,” said Juarez. “We didn’t want to get on Twitter or anything. We let the scoreboard speak for itself.”
There wasn’t much said on the scoreboard by either team for the first half of the game, as Poly led 6-0 at halftime. Both teams’ defense gave them reason to be hopeful about the second half, as Poly had an interception by Ellingston Walls and allowed just four net yards to Millikan’s offense. The Rams, meanwhile, stopped Poly all four times the Jackrabbits reached the end zone, holding them to just four field goal attempts as Jacob Starkey and Zach Martin had big tackles for a loss.
The halftime game story would have featured Poly’s Asher Luna, Edgar Gonzalez, and Ulisses Godoy in the lead paragraph–that’s Poly’s long snapper, holder, and kicker, who produced all of the game’s first-half points.
In the second half, the Poly defense once again proved the spark as Kejuan Markham returned an interception for a touchdown. Juarez got his night going after that with a 20-yard score to put Poly up 19-0.
Millikan was without quarterback Qeanu Campbell-Caldwell, who was out with an injury. Backup Jerron Lincoln struggled at times, but led a response to Juarez’s first drive, ultimately hooking up with Cal commit Malik Bradford for a three-yard touchdown. Juarez had seven runs on the ensuing Poly drive including a score to make it 26-7.
The Jackrabbits went up 32-7 on Juarez’s third touchdown, then added another defensive score on a pick-six by Daylen Fuller, the Jackrabbits defense’s ninth touchdown in five games.
“I thought our defense played very well,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We’ve had some injuries and it’s been that next man up mentality, nobody’s panicking or feeling sorry for themselves.
Barbee said he was proud of the way his team handled the pregame buildup.
“We don’t want to be out there on Twitter, we saw all the things being posted,” he said. “We didn’t say anything, we let our play do the talking–we did the right things.”
For Millikan, the game was frustrating because they were so close, trailing by just one score at halftime despite missing their starting quarterback.
“At the end of the day, when the lights are on, it’s time to play,” said Rams coach Justin Utupo. “It’s right there, we have to go take it. All the credit to Poly, they made the plays.”
Utupo said he expects Campbell-Caldwell to be available against Lakewood next week, but didn’t want to rush a player back from injury.
“It’s still a long season,” he said. “We’re hoping to have a lot of games left.”
Millikan was led by Dylan Davis, who had six catches for 29 yards and a score, and Jayden Davis, who had three catches for 56 yards. Zach Martin had four catches for 63 yards. The Rams (2-2) face Lakewood next week while Poly (3-2) will visit Wilson.