Lakewood and Long Beach Poly are playing at Veterans Memorial Stadium tonight at 7 p.m., but fans in attendance might be confused to see the teams on opposite sidelines from where they’d normally stand. That’s because it’s Lakewood’s home game tonight, due to the ongoing construction of the new John Ford Stadium on their campus.
For the Lancers, the drama of the game will likely come after the final whistle. If Lakewood pulls a massive upset and beats Poly, they could clinch a playoff spot–in the more likely scenario that Poly wins, the Lancers will be part of a three-way envelope draw to determine whether they’re in the playoffs or not. With a sub-.500 record, losing that tiebreaker means their season is over.
Within the confines of Friday’s game, there’s still a lot on the line. For skill players like Elijah Slaughter and Zion Smith, there’s always the prospect of the bright spotlight that comes with a good game against Poly. For seniors like linebacker Travis Perryman, there’s potentially just this one last chance to take the field this season, depending on how the game and envelope draw go.
For the Jackrabbits, Friday is their last dress rehearsal before the big show starts with the playoffs coming next week. Poly has looked sharper and sharper each week throughout the Moore League schedule, which they’ve dominated outside of a closer game against Millikan.
“We talked on Monday about this being a championship week for us,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We want to win the game, cleanly. We know they’re going to bring it, they’re playing for their playoff life–so we need to match the intensity and continue to get better.”
Poly has found a good rhythm offensively and defensively, so this week is just about sharpening up and connecting the pass and run game playcalling with some fluidity and balance. Then the real game for Poly is on Sunday, with the release of the CIF Southern Section playoff brackets at 10 a.m. Currently the Jackrabbits look like they’ll be a bottom three seed in Division 3 or a top three seed in Division 4. We’ll have a good sense of what the final CalPreps rankings (which are being used to determine the playoff brackets this year) will look like on Saturday.
“Everybody looks at them, but every time we’ve drawn up a scenario, it’s out of the window by Saturday morning, so it doesn’t really matter,” said Barbee. “We have no control over it. Whoever we play, we play–we’re looking to contend and win a CIF championship, that’s our focus.”
The playoffs will be interesting for the Jackrabbits, who have not played a team ranked within 15 spots of them since their season opener against Serra, a one-point loss. The Jackrabbits went 0-3 against teams ranked ahead of them and are 6-0 against teams ranked below them so far–the playoffs will see them matched up in a bracket full of Serra-type opponents with similar rankings. Poly’s feeling is that they’ve gotten a lot better since the first four weeks of the season, and there’s plenty on the field to support that belief–but there’s no way to truly test it until they reach the playoffs next week.
“We believe we’re a lot better, we believe that the experience and getting guys back has raised the potential of this team,” said Barbee. “We were humbled against Corona Centennial and this team has responded every single week–they’ve answered the call, and we’re looking forward to the playoffs.”