Every time Long Beach Poly and Serra get their football teams together, something special happens.
That was the case Friday night at Serra as the two teams once again played to a classic finish, the sixth consecutive time they met in a one-score game. This time it was Poly that came up a play short, as the Jackrabbits’ comeback bid came up one-point shy of their opponents in a 28-27 loss.
“We have a lot to clean up,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We can’t expect to beat an elite team making mistakes like we did tonight. I loved our team’s effort and fight but we left a lot on the field tonight. I take responsibility for that and we’re going to be better next week.”
The Jackrabbits trailed the entire game but had a chance to reverse things late after sophomore quarterback Darius Curry’s miracle 42-yard touchdown to Mekyle Jackson with 19 seconds left. But with fans and players rushing into the end zone to celebrate, the officials flagged Poly for unsportsmanlike conduct, putting the potential game-tying extra point back to the 35 yard-line. Kicker Dylan Michel’s attempt fell a few feet short, preserving Serra’s 28-27 lead.
Poly still had another chance after Michel recovered his own perfect onside kick attempt, but the clock ran out before they got a throw into the end zone.
“We’re going to look at that, that was not acceptable,” said Barbee. “We need our players to be disciplined but also there were quite a few people in the end zone, and not all of them were players. We have to understand that the game is not over, we’re still down by one. We wanted to go win this thing with a two-point conversion.”
The loss is a tough blow for a Poly team with high expectations for this season. It was a tough start for the Jackrabbits, who had a 10-day COVID-19 shutdown that kept them from playing last week. Poly was without three key defensive backs, including their top player in Daylen Austin, out with injury.
That forced Poly to play younger defensive backs and to hope they could get pressure up front on Texas commit Maalik Murphy; instead, Murphy was comfortable and controlled the game with a quick release and the right read. Serra drops likely prevented the score from swinging more in the Cavaliers’ favor, as Murphy still finished with over 300 yards passing and four total touchdowns.
Serra took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter but Poly answered back with a touchdown from sophomore Joshua “Noodles” Cason. After a Serra field goal, Poly cut the lead to 16-14 on a 12-yard touchdown run by junior Devin Samples. Serra would go on to take a 28-14 lead with five minutes left in the game, but sophomore quarterback Darius Curry impressed down the stretch.
Curry led a quick scoring drive capped by his own one-yard sneak into the end zone, then after a three-and-out he hit the long bomb to Jackson to make it 28-27 with 10 seconds left; the penalty kept Poly from getting any closer.
Curry was stellar in his Poly debut with 161 yards passing and a touchdown, but senior quarterback Shea Kuykendall was good as well, with 94 yards on 64% passing, leading the first two Poly touchdown drives.
“I thought they both played very well, they’re both dynamic and capable leaders with their own set of gifts,” said Barbee. “We’ve just got to sharpen up everything.”
There was some good news for Poly–what appeared to be a serious injury to sophomore linebacker Dylan Williams (requiring a cart and an EMT visit) was diagnosed late Friday as no more than a strain.
The Jackrabbits will be back in action in their home opener next Friday at 7 p.m. against Mission Viejo.