Long Beach Poly Cruises to Opening Game Win

Under a new coach in Raul Lara, Long Beach Poly looked to be in midseason form as it opened its season with a dominating 37-0 blanking of traditional L.A. City power Westchester.

Lara, who served for nine years as the team's defensive coordinator under previous head coach Jerry Jaso, saw the Jackrabbits, rated No. 2 nationally in this week's Student Sports Fab 50 rankings, take a big step towards the much-anticipated matchup October 6 with the No. 1 team in the country, Concord De La Salle, by exploding for 21 first quarter points against the Comets.

Poly held Westchester to a three-and-out series and on its first offensive play of the season, put six points on the board as senior quarterback Brandon Brooks hit sophomore receiver Derrick Jones, a track standout with 10.7 speed in the 100-meters, on a 63 yard post pattern strike only 1:36 into the game.

The Comets tried a no-huddle offense in their first few possessions but were doomed by penalties and turnovers. Poly defender Tyrone Jenkins made a diving interception at the Westchester 33-yard line and six plays later Brooks followed his mammoth line up the middle for a two-yard score.

On the ensuing drive, Comet quarterback Brian Johnson was stripped of the ball by Poly's Marcedes Lewis, more recognized as an All-American tight end, and the Jackrabbits recovered on the Westchester 39.

The 6-7, 230 pound Lewis showed his offensive skills shortly after, converting a third and two with a long catch. The UCLA-bound athlete ended his night with two catches for 48 yards and two sacks. He stated after the game how he was happy with his team's performance.

"As long as we work hard, we're going to win," said Lewis after the game. "We just have to play together. It's like Coach Lara says, "We're a chain and everyone on the team is a link on that chain. If one is broken you don't have a team. Tonight, we played as a team."

With 3:54 in the quarter, fullback John Williams punched the ball in for a four-yard touchdown to put Poly up 21-0 at the end of the quarter.

In the second period, both teams sustained long drives, but were unable to score. For the Comets, even when things went good, they went bad. An apparent 55-yard touchdown pass with 5:34 before half was called back because of two Comet penalties: offensive pass interference and an illegal man downfield. Fortunately, for Westchester, which had a double digit number of penalties, only one infraction could be called on the play.

With 2:30 before half, the Jackrabbits added another touchdown after a six play, 44-yard drive culminated with a five-yard burst, again up the middle, this time by Hershel Dennis, who had 14 carries for 93 of Poly's 145 rushing yards in the first half. The halftime score: Poly 28-0.

Dennis, considered one of the nation's elite rushers, became the first Poly ball-carrier to ever run for over 2,000 yards when he accounted for 2,104 yards last season, averaging 10.1 yards per carry, with 32 touchdowns.

The second half was more of the standout runner, who added a scoring runs of three yards and finished with nearly 150 rushing yards before being pulled in the third quarter.

The game for Westchester was typified by one play in the third quarter. Standout athlete Sam Calhoun, in at quarterback, took the snap and rolled to his right, went all the way to his left and then doubled back to his right before shoving the ball away as he was tripped up deep in his territory. A flag for intentional grounding made it an impossible third and 48 and the Comets soon were forced to punt.

The fourth quarter saw reserves for both teams dominate the action as both teams looked ready to end the game.

For Westchester players and coaches, they have to hope the school can duplicate last year's season, when the team lost its opening game to Crenshaw and then rolled off nine straight wins.

For Poly, the focus will be on marching forward towards the big October game which very possibly could decide the National Champion before Halloween.

"We'll watch film tomorrow and see where we have to improve," explained a tired, but happy Lewis. "But first, I'm going to go home and rest."

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