Dennis A Menace in Poly's Title Triumph

The CIF-Southern Section Div. I football title hung in the balance Saturday night. Long Beach Poly had the ball up by six points against Edison High with less than three minutes remaining in a riveting contest. All 13,085 fans at Edison International Field in Anaheim knew the ball was going to No. 34, and the Chargers had the line stacked to stop him. But Hershel Dennis had other ideas.

The storied senior tailback broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, pirouetted, slipped out of another tackle and pranced 34 yards, how fitting, down the left sideline into the end zone to put the game out of reach and clinch a second consecutive CIF crown for the Jackrabbits. It was Dennis' third touchdown of the fourth quarter and capped a 42-28 win.

"He's a great back," said Edison coach Dave White. "The first guy doesn't get him very often."

Until Dennis' final scoring run, the undersized Chargers (11-1-1) were very much in the game against the vaunted Poly team, which came in ranked No. 4 nationally in the Student Sports FAB 50. Edison actually led the game, 21-14, early in the second half before the Jackrabbits scored on three of their next four possessions to take command.

Dennis, of course, was the key. Trailing by seven after Edison recovered a fumbled kickoff to start the second half and turned it into a Tommy Grady to Denny Flanagan two-yard-touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal, Dennis caught a 36-yard pass on a circle route to spark a 65-yard scoring drive, capped by Rory Carrington's 16-yard touchdown run that knotted the score, 21-21, midway through the third quarter.

Then after Edison could not capitalize on a first-and-five from the Poly 38-yard-line, throwing four consecutive incompletions, Poly went on a five-minute drive that culminated with Dennis ramming up the middle 11 yards for the go-ahead score. Dennis scored again three minutes later, this time from four yards out, finishing off a short 28-yard drive that was set up by a nice punt return from Kevin Tapp. A bobbled snap thwarted the extra point attempt, but Poly's lead was a seemingly insurmountable 34-21 with 5:28 remaining.

Physically beaten up by a larger, harder hitting Poly team, Edison could have quit. But true to their nickname, the Chargers charged down the field. Starting at their six after a razzle-dazzle throwback attempt on the kickoff was stuffed by Jerimiah Toloumou, Grady found Flanagan three times, for 41, 31 and 22 yards. The last one was good for a touchdown, Flanagan's fourth on the night. In a mere 48 seconds, Edison had pulled within six, 34-28, with 4:40 left.

The Chargers went for the onside kick, but it was recovered by, who else, Dennis in Edison territory at the 48. The Jackrabbits tried to play smash mouth football against the spirited Edison squad and faced a third and two inches at the Edison 38. But a handoff from quarterback Brandon Brooks to Dennis went awry and A.J. Martinez recovered at Edison's 25-yard-line to give the Chargers a chance.

"When I dropped back, I hit the fullback in the shoulder and never got the ball to Hershel," Brooks explained.

An eight-yard-reception by Flanagan, who finished with 11 catches for 163 yards, got Edison off to a good start. But two straight incompletions, one a sure first down dropped by running back Chucky Linman, brought up a fourth-and-two with just over three minutes left. The 6-foot-7 Grady rolled right and tried to run for it, but Marlin Simons was there to knock him out of bounds short by a yard. Two plays later, Dennis capped the evening with his 34-yard poetry in motion.

Dennis finished the night with 26 carries for 159 yards and three touchdowns. He also had two pivotal receptions for 59 yards.

Brooks ended the night 9-of-17 for 120 yards, including a 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis that gave Poly a 14-7 second-quarter lead.

He said that the win over Edison was enough to forget the loss to national No. 1 Concord De La Salle Oct. 6.

"It erases everything for us," he said. "Our ultimate goal was to win a CIF championship. That's what we did. I'm glad we went through that, because it built character and was the reason we won today."

"If I'd lost the last game of my senior year, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself," added Lewis, who was also a force from his defensive end position, sacking Grady twice and pressuring him numerous other times. "This is the best we played all year. I was exhausted by the second quarter, but knew I needed to keep playing."

Grady, a highly touted junior, was valiant in the loss, completing 24-of-43 passes for 273 yards and four scores, despite being sacked four times and absorbing numerous big hits. But the Chargers potent running game, which sported two runners with over 600 yards, never materialized. Their longest run from scrimmage was a 38-yard, second quarter fake punt by Martinez that helped set up their second score and tied the game at 14-14 late in the first half. And in the second half, when Edison went almost exclusively to the air, there was nothing available on the ground. Four rushes netted four yards.

"We knew we had to gamble a little bit tonight," White explained. "The fake punt worked early in the game but they stopped everything else pretty well. Poly is the best team we faced by far all year. We just got worn down is the bottom line. They're bigger and stronger. We came into it thinking we could win. We weren't scared. We knew we'd have to play a near perfect game. We made a few mistakes."

"We played with them for three and a half quarters," Flanagan added. "We could have won."

But in the end, Poly (12-1) was the team celebrating the hard-fought win.

"We just made big plays when we had to," said senior safety Darnell Bing, who also had a rushing touchdown. "We accomplished our goals. We're CIF Div. I champions."

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