The Long Beach Poly (3-3, 2-0) football team faces an intriguing test as it hits the road this Friday to San Bernardino, where they’ll face the Aquinas Falcons (3-3, 1-0). Both teams originally had league games scheduled (Poly was to play Cabrillo Friday), but had those opponents cancel due to positive COVID-19 tests.
The switch in schedule is well-timed for the Jackrabbits. They’re not likely to face a playoff-caliber test in the Moore League the rest of the season after defeating Millikan by 14 points–Aquinas gives them a look at where they stand. If the Jackrabbits win a game against a quality opponent on the road, they can proceed through the next month with confidence, preparing for the playoffs, where they have a legit shot to win a CIF-SS title. If they lose, it’s a reality check about how much better they’ll have to get if they want to compete for a title.
“We were looking for the best team available and they reached out to us,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We weren’t trying to lose a game from the schedule, we lost a couple of weeks of preseason practice and we lost some games last year, so we’re thrilled to get a quality opponent and I think it’s a big help for our guys.”
Aquinas is no pushover. It’s worth noting that the Falcons reached out to schedule Poly, and that this Friday is their Homecoming. They’re an up-and-coming program looking for a huge boost from beating one of Southern California’s blue bloods–and Poly has certainly looked vulnerable. The Jackrabbits are 1-3 in their nonleague schedule this year and have not won a road game since October 18, 2019.
The Falcons match up with the Jackrabbits up front, and are a run-dedicated team that stays on the ground 80% of the time. They’ll test the Jackrabbits’ resolve, their ability to execute under pressure, and their discipline. Poly is a much-improved team since their 1-3 start, but they weren’t going to have much of a chance to prove it until scheduling the game against Aquinas.
“It’s homecoming for them, it’s the big show, we understand what’s at stake and how fired up they’ll be for this game,” said Barbee. “They’ve been in every game they’ve played, they only lost to Upland by a point.”
Upland is ranked one spot higher than Poly in the CalPreps rankings that will be used to determine playoff divisions at the end of the season. Barring a drastic improvement from a league opponent, this is likely the Jackrabbits’ last chance to see their young talent prove themselves on the field with a win prior to the playoffs.
Poly’s offense is now structured around QB Shea Kuykendall, their lone signal-caller after injury sidelined Darius Curry for the rest of the season. Kuykendall has a number of weapons available at receiver including sophomore USC commit Jason Robinson, who has been a breakout talent the last few weeks. The Jackrabbits run game has leaned heavily on power back Devin Samples, but is still searching for a speed back option.
Defensively, Poly’s front is healthier and will be the focus this week. If Donovan Poe, Phoenix Tusa and the rest of the crew can hold the line and let linebackers Ike Mikaele, Josh “Noodles” Cason, and Dylan Williams fill running lanes, the Jackrabbits will be fine. The Poly secondary isn’t likely to see a ton of passes thrown their way, but this week is a chance to prove they can play with physicality in run support.
We’ll have live updates from the game Friday night.