Football Long Beach Poly

CIF Football: Long Beach Poly Locks Down Cypress, Headed to Championship Game

The season started with a sour note for the Long Beach Poly football team, but the Jackrabbits will have a chance to end it with a celebratory symphony. After starting the year 1-3, Poly has gotten better every week. Thanks to a dominant win in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 semifinals, the Jackrabbits will have a chance to play for the program’s 20th CIF-SS championship next week, on the road against St. Francis. Poly locked down the Centurions defensively allowing less than 50 yards all game in a 35-0 victory.

The time/date for the championship will be announced Saturday, we’ll have the updates on the 562 Twitter.

“It feels great, this was something we’ve been talking about, bringing a championship atmosphere back,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “These guys had a rough start in the beginning of the season and they didn’t flinch. It wasn’t ‘the sky is falling.’ It was just let’s circle the wagons and worry about us, The players, my assistant coaches, they’ve done a phenomenal job week in and out.”


The Jackrabbits defensive staff deserved some extra kudos Friday. Poly’s offense took a quarter and a half to get going, but the defense was on point from the opening kickoff. The Jackrabbits gave up just 38 total yards of offense to the Centurions in a shutout win, with interceptions by Malik Brown and Jalen Johnson.

In the last two weeks the Poly defense has allowed three points, scored two touchdowns, and taken the ball away five times.

“We’ve been practicing really well, and we’ve been really locked in watching film, making sure everyone knows their assignments,” said Johnson. The senior captain marveled at having the opportunity to play in a championship game for Poly. Like a lot of players on the team, he grew up dreaming about such a moment–and his nephew is one of the team’s ball boys now, likely having the same dreams.

“I’ve been going to Poly games since I was a little kid, so for me to go this far it really means a lot to me and my family,” said Johnson.

Poly’s special teams made a big impact as well, with junior stud Daylen Austin running back the opening kick of the second half for a touchdown. Austin ran a punt back earlier in the game but had it whistled back on a holding penalty.

“I knew I was only going to get one chance to return a kickoff tonight so I just wanted to follow my blocks and trust my teammates and take it to the house,” said Austin.

Poly’s offense sputtered throughout the first quarter with missed connections in the passing game, but found its footing in the second as the Jackrabbits’ run game got going. Devin Samples piled up 115 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, while Nick Kelly and Ike Mikaele  both ran scores in as well.

The Jackrabbits and Centurions were scoreless ten minutes into the second quarter before Kelly’s 17-yard sprint gave Poly their first lead. After a takeaway to give the ball back to the offense Samples ran in his first score with 1:35 left until halftime. Austin ran the opening kickoff of the second half back, and then Mikaele and Samples both scored in the third to put the game away and earn a running clock, Poly’s third straight running clock this playoffs.

“It’s been a decade since this team was in this situation,” said Barbee. “It’s been a decade since this team has been able to practice on Thanksgiving, since they got to find out what December football is all about, and all the bells and whistles that go along with it. It’s great–these seniors were my first freshman class here and they’ve trusted us for four years. Their hard work is being validated right now.”

Now the Jackrabbits will get some bells and whistles, including the special joy of a Thanksgiving practice at 1600 Atlantic. 

“All we’ve been talking about all year is a championship, we have to go get it,” said Austin.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Cypress, CIF Football

PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Cypress CIF-SS Football Semifinals

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.