The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
Give the Long Beach Poly football team some bonus points for honesty. After their grudge match win over rival Serra, nobody on the Jackrabbits was pretending that it was a regular second-week victory. With a string of one-score defeats–including a heartbreaker in the state playoffs last year–it was obvious that this week meant more for Poly. And the Jackrabbits played like it on the field, too, asserting their will and dominating on both sides of the ball in a 17-3 victory over the Cavaliers.
“We played for our seniors from last year,” said Poly linebacker Ike Mikaele. “This was a big game–they’ve been talking smack all over the internet and it felt good to shut it up. Like coach Barbee says anybody with a mouth can talk but we talk with our helmets and shoulder pads.”
The Jackrabbits helmets and shoulder pads were talking loudly on defense, as they gave up just three points and allowed only 128 yards. Mikaele led the way with two sacks and three tackles for a loss, as well as a recovered fumble.
On offense the story was Poly’s power run game, with RB Devin Samples putting up 183 yards on 37 carries behind a hard-working offensive line that helped clear the way.
“This win means the world to us after that tough loss last year we came together and said we don’t want to go out like that next year,” said lineman Tyson Ruffins. “We kept that chip on our shoulders this entire offseason, just grinding and getting better at our craft. It paid off in the end.”
Poly’s two-score win breaks a streak of five straight meetings between these teams that was decided by one score, most of them by three or fewer. The Jackrabbit coaching staff deserves credit–they made the decision to run a high-tempo offense and it clearly wore Serra down, with several Cavaliers players cramping in the second half as Poly slowly but surely pulled away.
“They’ve got some great athletes over there, but we felt that we were better conditioned,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “That’s why we went tempo, we felt they wouldn’t be able to keep up with our pace. That was the big focus for us this week.”
The Jackrabbits scored early after a run-heavy drive with a lot of Samples runs was capped by a 36-yard touchdown pass from Darius Curry to sophomore Jadyn Robinson. The two teams were deadlocked after that for a long while, until a muffed punt by Poly gave Serra their biggest gain of the night. But to the Poly defense’s credit, they didn’t concede. Even though they were backed up into their own red zone they dug deep and forced a field goal, maintaining a 7-3 lead.
“They force a three and out and instead of a touchdown, it’s a field goal,” said Barbee. “You know, they were just consistent the whole time. That bend don’t break defense, that’s the hallmark of a great Long Beach Poly defense. It was great to see.”
Poly had a chance to expand the lead before halftime but Curry was picked off in the end zone. Mikaele’s two sacks came late in the first half and kept Serra from taking the lead.
In the second half, Poly got a takeaway after Dom Lolesio forced a fumble and Mikaele recovered it. The Jackrabbits settled for a field goal to take a 10-3 lead, still up by just one score.
After trading drives, Poly finally put a stamp on the game with a 77-yard, five-minute touchdown drive that featured eight runs by Samples, as well as a fourth-down conversion where Curry found Luke Buggs to put Poly into the red zone. Samples finally punched in a touchdown to make it 17-3, a two-score lead that felt insurmountable with 8:49 left give how Poly’s defense was playing.
The Jackrabbit D kept it up, holding Sera to a three-and-out, and then the Poly offense handed it off to Samples and let him run the clock down, with Curry hitting Jadyn Robinson for a pair of third-down conversions as well. The Jackrabbits had the ball first and goal late and ended up letting the clock run out instead of trying to pad their lead.
That set off the big celebration for Poly, with the team dancing in front of the large student section, blowing off steam that had been building up since December.
“They’ve been putting in a lot of work over the last year and they wanted to come out and show that,” said Barbee. “There were miscues, but they bounced back from some setbacks and got back to the gameplan.”
Curry was 12/23 for 150 yards and a touchdown; Samples had 183 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The Jackrabbits (2-0) will face their biggest test of the regular season next week when they travel to Mission Viejo in a battle of two top-ten CIF-SS teams.