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.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
It’s been several years since the city of Long Beach hosted a high school football game with as much buzz as Friday’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal between Long Beach Poly and Los Alamitos. The Jackrabbits enter the game undefeated and ranked No. 20 in the nation by USA Today, but underdogs according to CalPreps. Regardless of computer predictions, the game will feature two loaded rosters with several All-Americans battling on both sides of the ball for a trip to the D1 semis.
The Jackrabbits and Griffins have a long and storied history that includes a meeting in the Division 1 championship (read all about that history HERE) which is part of why this week’s game will be televised on Bally Sports, and already has more than 4,000 tickets sold entering gameday. The other reason is that both teams are rich with talent and players sure to play on Saturdays and perhaps even Sundays.
Despite all that, Poly head coach Stephen Barbee has done a great job focusing his team on the game all week during practice, and not worrying about all the bigger picture aspects of the game.
“Honestly we’re just treating it as another game,” said Barbee. “We understand the stakes and everything but as far as our preparation, it’s been the same as we have been the last 10 weeks.”
Poly senior All-American Daylen Austin said his team is fired up for the game.
“These are the kinds of games you dream about playing in,” he said. “They’ve got talent, we’ve got talent. It should be fun for everyone on Friday.”
One of the challenges for Poly is that they ran through the Moore League unchallenged while Los Al played in a tougher Sunset League. Barbee said he didn’t think his team would have any issues getting charged up for higher competition this week.
“We’ve played some marquee games in front of big crowds, TV games,” he said. “We’re putting our 11 best on the field, they’re putting their best 11 on the field, and it’s just a matter of executing at that point.”
Here’s a look at some of the keys for Poly in the game.
Long Beach Poly Offense vs Los Alamitos Defense
Poly quarterback Darius Curry has proven he’s one of the best the school has had over this season, lighting up everyone the Jackrabbits have played. In 10 games, several of which featured running clocks, Curry passed for 2,607 yards on a 68.8% completion rate with 33 touchdowns and three interceptions.
He’s been without his top two weapons for the second half of the season, as Raiden Brown and USC commit Jason Robinson were both sidelined with injury. In their absence, Jordan Malau’ulu and Jadyn Robinson have stepped up, as have Luke Buggs and Charles Clinton. Los Al’s defensive backs are talented and feature four-star USC commit Makai Lemon, who will play on both sides of the ball--Poly’s route-runners will need to be on point, as will Curry.
The real test for Poly’s offense will be on what has arguably been their best unit during last year’s playoff run to the CIF-SS Division 4 title and this year’s undefeated season: their offensive line. Anchored by tackle Tyson Ruffins, the Poly line is packed with experienced talent including center Jeremiah Filipo, guards Nathan Samoa and Bronston Larkin, and the other tackle, Ropati Eneliko. If that group can keep Curry’s jersey clean and open some holes to run, Poly’s offense will be in good shape. They’ll have a strong defensive line to contend with including five-star D-Line recruit TA Cunningham.
Lastly for Poly, running back Devin Samples returned from injury for the final game of the season. If he and speed-back sophomore Xavier Jones are both available, that gives Poly another pair of weapons out of the backfield.
Los Alamitos Offense vs. Long Beach Poly Defense
With all due respect to the top-tier talent on Poly’s offense and Los Al’s defense, this matchup is why this is MaxPreps’ game of the week, and why it’s on TV. The Griffins have one of the best offenses in the state this year, while Poly’s defense has given up just 70 points all season. It’s strength on strength in a matchup that could decide the game.
Up front Poly’s defensive line led by Arizona commit Dom Lolesio and Phoenix Tusa have been havoc-wreakers all year long, supported by Eneliko and Troy Tamasoa. They’ll be desperately trying to get to Los Al QB Malachi Nelson, a five-star USC commit who’s the highest-ranked passer in California. Keeping Nelson uncomfortable will be number one on Poly’s to-do list.
Nelson will be keeping his eyes downfield looking for the aforementioned Lemon, one of a variety of targets for the Griffins this year. Poly DBs Austin, Chase Stewart, and Isaac Johnson will have their hands full, as will safeties Armani Wilkson and Jaylan Miller.
Los Al has an excellent power back in Damian Henderson, a Colorado State commit who Poly saw last year when he was at Jordan. Henderson will have to contend with a hungry Poly linebacking group led by USC commit Dylan Williams, senior Ike Mikaele, and playmaking junior Joshua Cason.
This could absolutely be one of those games where a big special teams play turns it on its head. Dylan Michel has been automatic for Poly on XPs but hasn’t been asked to kick many field goals this year. The Jackrabbits were hoping for more out of their kick and punt return game, but have scored touchdowns on plays where they were able to field the ball cleanly.