The Long Beach Poly football team capped a bizarre 2021 with a CIF-SS Division 4 championship, the 20th in the program’s history. The year saw much heartbreak for the Jackrabbits, who were mourning the loss of longtime assistant coach Keith “Slice” Thompson as well as the family members of many players.
But Poly was able to persevere and prove their doubters wrong with a dominant playoff run. The Jackrabbits weren’t happy with the CalPreps ranking formula that the CIF-SS used to determine its playoff divisions placing them in Division 4, and they proved a cut above the competition all playoffs long, eventually winning the championship game 38-7 at St. Francis.
“There’s a lot of love on this field, a lot of love for each other,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee after the game. “We talked about it today. These kids know they’re not only representing Poly but representing all of Long Beach. I could not be more proud of all these guys.”
Poly ran the ball for 388 yards on 6.7 yards per carry in the championship game, with junior Devin Samples posting 38 carries for 220 yards and three TDs, and Joshua Cason adding 133 yards and a touchdown. QB Shea Kuykendall was 16/18 for 143 yards, and the Jackrabbits defense was dominant as well, allowing just 20 yards rushing. That defense gave up just 10 points combined in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship game.
Senior captain Jalen Johnson said he knew his team was going to win early in the second half when he saw St. Francis players starting to tap out.
“You can see they’re slow coming out of the huddle, they’re not firing off the ball, it’s in their facial expressions that they really don’t want to be here anymore,” he said. “It’s a great feeling–it makes us hungrier. Our coaches always tell us, all gas no brakes.”
With 18 returning starters next year, the Jackrabbits will try to move up in division and prove they’re still one of the state’s top programs.