Football Long Beach Poly Millikan

PREVIEW: Long Beach Poly vs Millikan Football

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

The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation.

The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2023-24 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.

If it feels like there’s an extra buzz in the air this week in Long Beach, that’s because there is. Long Beach Poly hosts Millikan Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7pm in the Bally Sports Game of the Week, and in the annual clash of the city’s two best football teams.

Poly fully expects to continue their Moore League winning streak, Millikan fully expects to walk out of Vets having handed the Jackrabbits their first league loss on the field since 2009. The excitement that comes out of that mutual certainty is contagious, and apparent.

Of course, both coaches have made like Deion Sanders and Lincoln Riley and have been careful to avoid giving the other side any bulletin board material this week.

“Millikan has done a great job, they’re a very talented team,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee. “We’re always excited to play some of the best teams in Long Beach. They’ve got playmakers all over the field, it should be a fun game.”

Millikan coach Romeo Pellum has avoided the trap of making this game bigger than it is.

“It’s about us, it’s never about the opponent,” he said. “There’s no pressure on us. I’m not allowing it to be any pressure on us. No one’s gonna say we’re gonna win this game, no one’s gonna believe we’re gonna win this game but us. We’re not gonna pump this game up like it’s bigger than what it is–it’s another game for us. Each game is big.”

A major key in the game is the health of the Jackrabbits, who have had several starters out for their last few games–with the exception of season-ending injuries to lineman Mike Salinas and receiver Caden Butler, Barbee says his team is healthy. With two new transfers cleared via CIF-SS sit-out period, Poly QB Darius Curry said this is the first time he’s felt like the Jackrabbits have their full squad.

“It’s the first time we’ve got the real unit, we can move as one because we’ve got almost everybody back,” he said. “Everyone has the same mindset of like, ‘It’s our time now.’ So let’s go.”

This is, on paper, the closest matchup of these teams in recent memory. Millikan has a more complete team than they’ve had under Pellum, and the Rams have consistently been ranked in the 20s in the CIF-SS CalPreps rankings–higher than Poly was ranked when they won the Division 4 title a few years ago. Barbee agreed it’s the most talented team Pellum has had.

“Ryan Pellum from a freshman till now is an incredible athlete, there’s growth,” he said. “They’ve got some other very talented receivers, they got some transfers in on defense to solidify a very active front. They’ve got some special kids.”

One of those transfers is Matt Robinson, who’s been a stud at linebacker for Millikan and was key in their bottling up Jordan’s high-octane offense last week. Robinson played Poly twice at Serra before transferring to Millikan in 2022 and is no stranger to these types of games.

“I’m looking forward to that energy and the aggression that they bring, I’m just ready to play,” he said.

The Rams defense has been a big storyline this year. Millikan has always had a high-powered offense under Pellum but the difference between last year’s thriller with Jordan and this year’s comfortable win was the way they shut the Panthers down defensively. Poly’s young offensive line has struggled to protect Curry and to consistently run the ball–that will be a big storyline this Friday.

“I think  (defensive coordinator) David Krumins and the defensive staff did a really great job game planning for Jordan, and they have been doing a good job the last few weeks,” said Pellum “Our defense has been playing better and better, they’re just clicking at the right time.”

With so many talented players on both sides of the ball, it can also feel like a lot of the kids in this game grew up together–because they did, since top youth players frequently gravitate towards the same youth programs. For example, Millikan running back Xavier Jones is a transfer from Poly, but grew up with players on both sides of the field.

“That’s my brother from the sandbox forever,” said Poly linebacker Josh “Noodles” Cason. “When we’re all on the field together it’s business, but outside of the white lines it’s family.”

Millikan’s run game and Poly’s defense will be another big storyline in this game. The Rams got four touchdowns and major productivity from Jones last year, and while Poly’s defensive backs have been outstanding this year, they’ve struggled to consistently stop the run.

Whoever wins the game will certainly have the inside track on the Moore League title, and on city bragging rights. Either way, it’s great for the city of Long Beach to have a marquee league matchup once again that’s drawing television crews and regional media to the city.

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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.