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.
A great season for the Long Beach Poly football team came to an end earlier than the Jackrabbits wanted it to, as they came up short against a quality Los Al team Friday in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals. The Jackrabbits couldn’t stop a potent Griffin rushing attack as they fell 52-42.
“All credit to them, they have a great team,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “Some of the adjustments that we made didn’t pan out the way we wanted them to, and we came up 10 point short.”
The game couldn’t have started better for Poly, as Ike Mikaele intercepted Los Al QB Malachi Nelson on the Griffins’ first drive, and Poly QB Darius Curry found sophomore WR Jadyn Robinson for a score after that. Los Al quickly scored on a touchdown run by Jordan transfer Damian Henderson, but Poly freshman Kamari Smith scored a 70-yard kickoff return on the ensuing kick, putting Poly up 14-6.
The problem for the Jackrabbits was that both teams came into the game determined to run the ball, and Los Al was much more successful at it than Poly. The Griffins gained 376 yards on the ground on eight yards per carry, with Henderson’s powerful upright running style piling up 237 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries.
A Poly defense that had only given up 70 points all year and that had big sacks in every game including a win over Mission Viejo couldn’t come up with an answer for Los Al’s run game, or a sack to disrupt Nelson.
“Our defense was on the field quite a bit, and even in the first half when we had them in long yardage situations they got a timely penalty or they were able to convert it,” said Barbee. “It kept their drives alive, and instead of getting off the field they’re putting points on the board. Unfortunately we didn’t make the plays, and that falls on me.”
After Poly took a 14-6 lead Los Al scored 21 unanswered, going up 27-14 and threatening to put the game away early in the second quarter. But Poly adjusted its offensive gameplan on the fly–the plan had been to control the ball and run the clock, but with their line unable to get much push up front, the Jackrabbits opted to put the game in Darius Curry’s hands, and he answered the ball.
A 39-yard touchdown from Curry to Luke Buggs gave Poly life, and when Nelson answered with a TD pass to stud Los Al receiver Makai Lemon, Curry found Robinson for a 79-yard score to make it 33-28 Griffins. The Jackrabbits got a stop and the ball back and were driving to take the lead before halftime, but Curry was whistled down on a play where he was trying to break a tackle, and the clock ran out.
That missed opportunity hurt, as did a dropped touchdown pass to open the second half on fourth and 11 from the Los Al 32. The Griffins capitalized on Poly’s missteps, with Henderson scoring a 45-yard touchdown on 4th and 1 on the net drive to put Los Al up 39-28–they stayed up by two scores the rest of the way, with another couple of rushing touchdowns interspersed by Curry finding Jordan Malau’ulu and Jason Robinson for touchdown passes.
Curry had a phenomenal game going 30/46 for 400 yards and five TDs, with all of his completions to receivers who will return next season with him.
With Curry’s big night, the interception by Mikaele, and the kickoff return for a touchdown, Poly had positives in all three phases of the game. But with an inability to stop the run and those few miscues that cost them touchdown opportunities, they were outscored 33-28 in the first half and 19-14 in the second half.
It was still a historic season for the Jackrabbits, who had their first undefeated regular season since 2008, and earned a top 20 national ranking by USA Today.
“We’re not going to judge this whole season’s success on one game,” said Barbee. “The growth we’ve had, athletically as a team and individually, has been huge. We were 10 points away tonight, and we just ran out of time. I couldn’t be more proud of the fight our kids had, they kept coming and giving it their best effort. The resiliency that my team showed throughout the whole game, that I’ve seen from them throughout the year, it really makes me very optimistic about the future.”