Long Beach Poly won’t play a football game this Friday–the Jackrabbits have a bye and are waiting for Sunday morning, when the CIF Southern Section football playoff brackets will be released. For Poly and it’s notoriously win-hungry fans, Sunday morning starts the only season that matters anyway.
Yes, the Jackrabbits easily beat Lakewood last week to win another Moore League championship, having outscored its league opponents 244-39. Poly hasn’t lost a game on the field to a league opponent since 2009, and in the last three years they’ve beaten the Moore League by a combined score of 982-68, an average score of 54-3.
It’s no wonder that Poly fans have typically declined to celebrate league championships–from the day that Stephen Barbee was hired in the spring, fans have been asking him about the playoffs. Barbee admitted that it’s been a challenge getting his top players reps over the last few weeks in preparation for the postseason.
Poly only played 14 minutes of game against Jordan before lightning canceled the game with Poly up 20-0. Against Lakewood, there was a running clock the entire second half. And this week, there’s a bye. That means that Poly’s starters got about three quarters of full game action over the final three weeks of the season.
That’s not ideal given that the Jackrabbits will face a big jump in talent when they open the Division 1 playoffs, likely hosting Orange Lutheran or Mission Viejo, teams that are packed with NCAA talent.
Some coaches have turned that jump to their advantage. In 2012 when Poly opened 1-3 but went on to win the CIF-SS Division 1 championship, Poly coach Raul Lara used the league schedule to focus on different areas of his team’s offense, allowing the Jackrabbits to unveil a brand new attack for the postseason. Barbee appears to have been doing something similar, spending the whole Millikan game running the ball and most of the Lakewood game passing.
He’s also been trying to make it clear to his team that they need to use practice to get themselves ready for the playoffs, not lopsided league games.
“We’ve been challenging ourselves every day, we know that’s what we need to do,” said Barbee. “Our practices have been very competitive, trying to make sure we’re ready.”
Will it work? Anybody’s guess. Poly does feature a strong power rushing attack but they weren’t able to move the ball that effectively on the ground against their tougher nonleague opponents. The Jackrabbit defense looked sharp in those nonleague games, but they weren’t dominant in the Moore League, giving up as many points this year as they did in league the last two seasons combined.
Either way, Poly will have the night off Friday, with an eye towards Sunday morning’s brackets. After that begins the playoffs–AKA the real season, the one that this entire year will be judged on, and remembered by.