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Football Long Beach Poly

Football: Long Beach Poly Comes Back on Mission Viejo in Instant Classic

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial.     

With about seven minutes left in Long Beach Poly’s home opener against Mission Viejo, it started to lightly rain at Veterans Memorial Stadium, because why not? Everything else had gone wrong at that point. The Jackrabbits had given up 22 unanswered points to the Diablos and fallen behind by two scores, with three consecutive three-and-outs on offense. Worse, three Jackrabbits were off to the hospital, two of them leaving the field via ambulance.

The injuries and the more than 30-minute stoppages led to a strange feeling on the sideline, as Mission Viejo had taken control of the game and led by 11 points with seven minutes left between Poly and a second straight loss. But Poly’s defense stepped up and QB Darius Curry found a connection with sophomore receiver Kamarie Smith that yielded an improbable comeback, with Curry finding Smith in the end zone for the go-ahead score with 28 seconds left in Poly’s 32-28 victory.

“I’m honestly at a loss for words,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “It’s a testament to our kids, the never-quit attitude. We talked about how everyone was picking against us, but all we needed was us. There was no panic on our sideline, and we put together a complete game.”

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Curry finished 17/38 for 303 yards and four total touchdowns.

“It’s God’s plan,” said Curry. “We were playing for our boys, knowing they couldn’t be there with us. We had to win for them.”

Curry’s favorite target by far on Friday was the sophomore Smith, who had seven catches for 251 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning catch with 28 seconds left.

“I told DC just give me the ball man, and I’m gonna do what I do,” said Smith. “This was a great game, we came in with a chip on our shoulder and we had to get right tonight.”

Curry said the reason Smith got so many big plays was simple.

“A dog’s got to eat, whoever’s open, whoever’s on fire for our team is going to get the ball, that ball is attracted to good energy and he had that good energy the whole game,” he said. 

The energy couldn’t have been better for Poly in the first half, as the Jackrabbits fell behind 6-0 after a Curry interception but quickly took the lead 7-6 on a 79-yard touchdown reception by Smith, as he broke two tackles on the left sideline and sprinted to paydirt. Poly’s defense forced a turnover and continued to built a lead as Curry ran in another score and freshman kicker Jonas Mendoza made it 17-6 at the break.

The script flipped towards Mission in the second half as the DIablos came out pounding the rock, and cut the lead to 17-14 on their first drive. Later in the third quarter, Poly had a second serious injury. Mike Salinas left the game via ambulance in the second quarter, and in the third Donte Wright Jr. joined him as well after a hit to the head. After two lengthy delays, the Poly team looked shaken, obviously concerned for their teammates.

Barbee gathered his team and exhorted them to play for their brothers who couldn’t be with them on the sideline.

The Diablos were the more focused team after the second break, though, returning Curry’s second interception of the game for a touchdown, putting them up 28-17 with 10 minutes left. Poly had three straight three-and-outs, and looked to be on the verge of losing with seven minutes left in the game when the light drizzle began.

“The kids feed off each other, the coaches and kids didn’t go into panic mode, everyone knew we still had it,” said Barbee. “I’m proud of the resiliency they showed tonight. They stayed together.”

Poly moved the ball with Josh “Noodles” Cason running it, and Curry converting on 4th and 4 to Luke Buggs. He hit Smith for a 61-yard score that cut the lead to 28-25 with under five minutes left. The Jackrabbits defense put up a three-and-out and got the ball back to their offense. Curry converted a 4th and 7 on the ensuing drive by running for eight yards, and then he and Cason ran the ball down to the Mission Viejo 11, with 35 seconds left. Curry rolled out and found Smith between two defensive backs; the sophomore caught it to give Poly a 32-28 lead with 28 seconds remaining.

Mission’s final drive was cut short by a walkoff interception by Mikey Beresford, which ended the game and set off a massive celebration by the Poly players and fans.

The Jackrabbits (2-1) will look to improve to 3-1 next week as they travel to Serra.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs Mission Viejo Football
PHOTOS: Long Beach Poly vs Mission Viejo Football
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.