Long Beach Poly’s football team was beaten 45-0 last Saturday in their season opener against Punahou of Hawaii in the Moorpark High Football Classic. It was the worst loss the Jackrabbits had suffered since 2012’s 56-0 shocker to Narbonne, and just the third time the team had been shut out this decade.
Poly, the state’s all-time football wins leader, is not often embarrassed. The Narbonne loss in 2012 was the team’s worst defeat since 1916, when it lost to San Diego by 62 points.
That the team lost, and lost badly, shouldn’t be that surprising in retrospect. They were facing a veteran-led Punahou team that already had four games under its belt, while the Jackrabbits were not only playing their first game of the season, but playing with a very young roster full of sophomores and juniors.
The last two times Poly fielded a roster this inexperienced was 2012 and 2009, a pair of seasons that could end up forecasting the fate of this year’s team.
In 2009, fresh off a pair of CIF-SS championships, Poly started a young team and ended up losing two Moore League games, to Lakewood and Millikan; they were the first league losses for the Jackrabbits in 18 years. The team got better, but not that much better until the end of the year, where they were narrow playoff losers to eventual champion Servite.
In 2012, the rebound happened much quicker, largely thanks to the leadership of the team’s few seniors and talented underclassmen like JuJu Smith-Schuster. That team went 1-3 in the nonleague schedule, and took their embarrassing loss personally. They didn’t post pictures of themselves in their new uniforms after the 56-0 loss–they fumed, went to school and got made fun of by their classmates, and committed to getting better in practice.
That 2012 team ended up running through the Moore League easily and ripping off a terrific playoff run that included wins over Mission Viejo, St. John Bosco, and then Mater Dei in the CIF-SS championship.
This Poly team looks more like the 2009 team than the 2012 team, and there’s no doubt that Moore League opponents are licking their chops. The league has been waiting 10 years for Poly to slip; since losing to Lakewood and Millikan in 2009, the Jackrabbits have won 57 consecutive games on the field against league opponents (they forfeit three running-clock victories in 2015). Those 57 wins came by a combined score of 2,874-344, an average score of 50-6.
As Poly left the field after their loss to Punahou, one of their coaches raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Major wake-up call.”
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. There’s no way to know how the story ends yet–that’s the fun of football, and of sports in general.
What we know is that the Jackrabbits’ ugly loss in the season opener was a fascinating first chapter to one of two stories. One ends in redemption, with the team taking the loss personally and rebounding for a league title and perhaps a deep playoff run. The other ends in a Moore League opponent beating Poly for the first time in a decade, in what would surely be the sports story of the year.
It all depends: was Saturday a wake-up call for a young but talented team, or the first sign that the Jackrabbits’ longstanding dominance of the city is in jeopardy?
Whatever the answer, the next chapter will be seen by a lot of fans. Poly hosts Los Alamitos at Veterans Memorial Stadium Friday at 7 p.m., and the game will be televised by Fox Sports.