Twenty-eight years ago, decorated Long Beach Poly football coach Jim Barnett departed 1600 Atlantic to take a job down the freeway at Trabuco Hills. Barnett led the Jackrabbits to the 1980 CIF-SS championship, ending the longest title drought in program history by winning their first ring in more than two decades. After the 1984 season, he left to become the first-ever coach at Trabuco Hills, and Jerry Jaso and Thomas Whiting took over as head coaches at Poly.
Tonight at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m., the Jackrabbits (7-3) will host the Mustangs (8-2) in a meeting of two programs with that one unusual link in the form of Barnett.
Tonight isn’t about history, of course, but about the present.
Poly started the season 1-3 and has spent the last seven weeks preparing for this moment. The Jackrabbits are the No. 1 seed in Division 4 under the CIF-SS’ new playoff format, and will be playing their highest-ranked team tonight since they wrapped their challenging nonleague game with a blowout loss to Corona Centennial.
Over the last seven weeks, Poly has looked sharper and sharper, and developed a much better rhythm and identity on both sides of the ball. But they also haven’t been tested by a program ranked at their level.
“I’ve just seen us getting better every day,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “That was kind of something that we’ve been focused on. Our attention to detail is sharper, and the kids understand what’s at stake. Now it just comes down to execution.”
Poly hopes to rely on its power rushing attack as the base of its offense in these playoffs, and Devin Samples has proven more than capable of carrying the load, with a variety of options backing him up. Poly’s offensive line, led by Wendell “WoWo” Moe, has looked better each week and Samples was able to score virtually untouched last week against Lakewood.
In the passing game, QB Shea Kuykendall has had a phenomenal season, completing nearly 70% of his passes. His connection with sophomore USC commit Jason Robinson and senior Tyson Bordeaux has improved enormously over the last month, both in short possession passes and on deep game-breaking routes.
Defensively, the Jackrabbits’ task will be shutting down Trabuco’s rushing attack. They’re nearly 2-1 run calls over pass, with senior back Drew Barrett averaging more than 20 carries a game, averaging 7.5 yards per carry with 21 touchdowns on the year. Barrett is by far their biggest source of production, but QB William Barnes also has 14 touchdowns on the season.
“They’re very disciplined, they’ve got a real good running back behind a good line, and I like their fight watching film,” said Barbee. “They got down in a few games and there’s no quit in that team.”
The Jackrabbits are looking to advance to next week’s quarterfinals, where they would be on the road either way, playing the winner of tonight’s Upland and St. Paul contest.