When the dust settled after an unpredictable season and improbable regular season finale on Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Long Beach Poly stood alone atop the Moore League boys’ soccer standings for the first time in 15 years.
The Jackrabbits (15-4-5, 8-2-2) held a two-goal lead for most of the second half thanks to goals from senior Miguel Arroyo and junior Kenny Barnabee. Millikan (20-2-5, 7-1-4) stormed back and scored twice in the final three minutes to nearly steal the title for the third time in the last four years. However, a final shot at goal went just wide seconds before the final whistle of a 2-2 draw that makes Poly history.
“We’re trying to build our own history one day at a time,” said Poly fourth-year coach Eric Leon. “It’s great to bring this back to Poly. I hope that we can continue following the footsteps that these guys created.”
Barnabee moved back to defense after scoring the second goal, and said Poly’s success this year is due to preparation and pure talent.
“We just came out here and tried to dominate,” Barnabee said. “Coming into this season we knew we had a strong core with a lot of depth on the bench. Coach Eric played us perfectly where we could rotate skill players.”
The championship match was statistically even throughout, but Poly took a lead in the 32nd minute after senior Miguel Arroyo converted a penalty kick thanks to Millikan hand ball.
The Jackrabbits doubled their lead in the 46th minute when Arroyo played a ball over the top, and Barnabee chanced it down and beat Millikan goalkeeper Matt Sutfin.
Millikan pushed hard to get on the scoreboard while the game got chippy. The center referee ended up stopping his watch for almost nine minutes in the second half, and those stoppages helped the Rams gain their footing.
Senior Edgar Hernandez scored for Millikan on a snap shot in the 77th minute, and a 79th minute foul near midfield gave the Rams some life. Senior Caleb Sookhoor sent his free kick directly at goal, and it took a deflection before going in to make it 2-2.
Millikan junior Jesus Moreno had one last look at the game-winner in the dying seconds, but his last shot of the game rolled just wide.
“Poly was a solid team all year and I’m happy for them,” Millikan coach Rod Petkovic said. “We came close. One shot away… I was very proud of our kids. They played hard to the end. They did not give up. That’s a good sign. When the chips are down, you raise your level and compete until the end. They did that. Hopefully that will give us an emotional and physical lift in CIF.”
This was the last league game for Petkovic, who is retiring after 40 years and 23 soccer league championships at Millikan. Petkovic said his favorite part of the night was seeing his former players come back.
“There’s a lot of memories that we’ve shared together,” Petkovic said. “That’s really special for me because it’s all about creating memories for them. That’s why I coach, to create memories.”
Poly will have a lot of fond memories from this season after rapidly growing over the last four years under Leon.
“Consistency is key,” Leon said. “We lost a couple games in league but we didn’t have consecutive losses. Last year, we had the big three games in one week at home and we lost all three. This year’s team is hungry.”
“We’ve definitely come a long way,” Poly senior captain Julian Pierce said. “I know this day will be sentimental for me. We’ve grown so much to get a title, but we’ve also jumped up (CIF-SS) divisions as well. That just speaks volumes for where this program is going… I really don’t have words for it, I just feel great.”
The CIF-SS playoff brackets will be released on Saturday.
Shots: Millikan 13-12
Shots On Goal: Millikan 6-5
Corners: Millikan 3-1
Offsides: Poly 4-3
FINAL MOORE LEAGUE STANDINGS
LB Poly: 25 points, 8-2-1
Millikan: 24 points, 7-1-3
Cabrillo: 20 points, 6-4-2
Jordan: 19 points, 5-3-4
Wilson: 15 points, 4-5-3
Lakewood: 11 points, 3-7-2
Compton: 1 point, 0-11-1