Superior depth and David Huerta’s penalty kick proved to be the difference on Monday at Long Beach Poly where the Jackrabbits beat Millikan 2-1.
Poly (5-3-4, 4-1-1) secured its hold on second place in the Moore League with the win, and Millikan (4-5-4, 3-3-0) is behind them in third.
“It was a hard fought win for us and a testament to my bench,” Poly coach Eric Leon said. “They came in and did their best defensively, pressed everything and controlled what we could control.”
The game was physical throughout and included over 20 fouls and seven yellow cards. Those warnings, and an early injury to star midfielder Omar Juarez, forced Leon to rely on his second string.
“It’s not really something you can prepare for so you just have to have a tough mentality,” Poly forward Luke Brown said of the physicality. “I think the thing that helped us was our deep rotation. Those (bench) players had the mental strength to step in and play the whole game.”
Brown put his team ahead in the eighth minute on a beautiful header off a corner kick served up by Jesus Villa Gomez.
“He put a phenomenal cross to the top of the back post,” Brown said. “I noticed Lucas Scott was jumping for it and drawing the guy away so I just stepped back and I was able to head it into the top corner.”
After Millikan’s David Villanueva equalized in the 39th minute, Huerta earned a penalty kick in the 52nd minute and converted it for the game-winning goal.
“This is a big win for us,” Huerta said. “I saw that they were fouling me a lot so I knew if I could take it to the box we’d get a PK. That goal was important. I was looking for the foul.”
Poly enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but the shots ended up even with five apiece. Millikan only had one shot after the Huerta goal. It came on a free kick straight away, but Larry Valle’s shot sailed high.
“I thought we grew into the game and played well, but we had a couple of errors that kind of threw us off our rhythm,” Millikan goalkeeper Jeff Schofield said. “They had that stretch with the free kick, the PK, and then I think we got a hold of the game again, but if you’re chasing it all of the time it’s tough to play against them.”
Poly goalkeeper Amir Diaz Espinoza only needed to make a pair of saves while captain Christian Mendoza led a solid performance from the back line.
“Give them credit, they’re a very technical team, they like to play fast and they’re also very physical and that makes them dangerous,” Brown said of Millikan. “We outmatched their physicality and that’s what got to them. We were able to control the game.”
Poly has games against Lakewood and Wilson on Wednesday and Friday.
“As far as the title race goes, if we would’ve drawn today Wilson would’ve been sitting pretty,” Leon said. “Now we kind of shake things up a little bit. Now we’re five points behind them and we have a game with them on Friday.”
Millikan will travel to Wilson on Wednesday before hosting Cabrillo on Friday.
“We’ve got to play all 80 minutes and I think we played about 50 minutes today. That’s not good enough. You’re not going to beat anybody in the league if you only play 50 minutes.”
Additional reporting by Aidan Currie