It was muddy, it was messy, and it was a two hour drive to San Bernardino in Friday Southern California traffic, but Long Beach Poly’s game against Aquinas was beautiful for the Jackrabbits and their fans. The game was the Falcons’ Homecoming, but it was the Jackrabbits’ coming out party as they may have turned a corner in their quest to improve from their 1-3 start to get ready for a run in the playoffs. Poly played by far its best game of the year, completely shutting down the Falcons in the second half in a 41-14 victory.
Poly allowed just eight yards to Aquinas in the second half in a dominant effort in all three phases of the game.
“We’ve been working so hard, and we understood how we started the season and we wanted to look for the best opponent we could,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “I thought our offense asserted itself and had a balanced attack, I thought our defense played great, and we made big plays on special teams, too. It was great to see because these kids have really been working hard and they deserved to see that on the field.”
Poly and Aquinas were playing Friday because both of their scheduled league games were canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests. The Jackrabbits came out and looked to be in control from the start, as they went up 7-0 on a touchdown by Joshua “Noodles” Cason early in the second quarter. Poly went up 14-0 as Shea Kuykendall hit Tyson Bordeaux for an 18-yard score.
But with five minutes left in the second quarter, Poly had outgained Aquinas 113-16 yards, and the Falcons made a switch into a hurry-up offense that knocked Poly on its heels. The Jackrabbits softened their defense and Aquinas went right at them, scoring a touchdown to cut the lead in half, then after a fumble on the next Poly possession, scoring again just before halftime to tie it at 14.
“I think everyone relaxed a little,” said Poly lineman Donovan Poe. “In the locker room I told everyone we need to turn it back up. That’s what we do.”
Barbee said he was impressed with his team’s calm at halftime–there was no yelling or screaming, just players focused on re-asserting themselves in the second half.
“We have a lot of young players and they don’t know what it’s like to be in a dogfight and have to keep playing football and handling business,” said Barbee. “This is a great way to learn, that’s what we wanted.”
The second half couldn’t have been more dominant, as Poly outscored Aquinas 27-0 and outgained them 200 yards to eight. The Jackrabbits opened the second half with a six minute touchdown drive capped by Kuykendall finding Donovan Turner for a 35-yard score. After a three-and-out on defense, a bad punt allowed Dylan Williams to fall on the ball in the end zone for another Poly score. They didn’t let up though, and never let Aquinas get momentum or much of a drive going.
Meanwhile the Poly offense got another score on a Cason touchdown, and then saw Kuykendall hit Jason Robinson to make it 41-14.
It was an impressive performance from Kuykendall (17/28 239 yards and three touchdowns), who led an efficient offense that passed and ran at will, even without starting running back Devin Samples, who was out with injury.
Cason had 65 yards rushing and two touchdowns as well as four tackles on defense, an impressive two-way effort for the sophomore. Cason didn’t feel like he was overloaded by the double duty, though.
“I feel great, I live for these moments,” he said. “I get up every morning and work out to get ready for situations like this.”
Bordeaux has continued to emerge as a solid receiver, and had seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, plus a highlight catch where he Moss’d a defender, catching it over his head.
Another sign of Poly’s progress was that they only committed five penalties for 50 yards, a drastic improvement over the last two games (and half as many yards as Aquinas racked up in flags).
Junior DB Daylen Austin also had an outstanding game for Poly. On defense he had two pass breakups plus an interception, and he also had a 40 yard punt return to set up an easy score.
Poly (4-3, 2-0) will host Compton on Friday next week.