On one hand, you tell yourself to never, ever pick against De La Salle. Only do it until after the Spartans have actually lost. There are many reasons why they've won 129 straight games and not many of them have changed this year.
On the other hand, as a wise and perceptive sportswriter, you
want to be able to tell people that you said when the win streak would end
and then it actually ended.
Both of those feelings have been formed by seeing both teams
play at the First Hawaiian Bank Classic at Aloha Stadium. I've also
followed both programs very closely for many years. I saw Long Beach Poly
once in the 1980s when it had two future NFL Rookies of the Year on the same
team, running back Leonard Russell and defensive back Mark Carrier. The
first time I ever saw De La Salle was in 1984 and the Spartans lost. In
fact, it took until the end of the 1992 season until De La Salle actually
had a winning record in games I attended since I also saw losses in 1987,
1989 and the last one in 1991.
Both Louis Johnson of the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Greg
Biggins of our staff feel that this year's Poly team is better than
last year's squad that lost by 29-15 to De La Salle but still wound up
winning the CIF Southern Section title for the fourth time in five years. I
will say that this year's team is deeper than last year -- in fact,
it's the deepest Poly team I've ever seen -- but I'm not
convinced yet that it's a better team than last year. Marcedes Lewis,
Hershel Dennis, Manuel Wright, Winston Justice and Darnell Bing were that
Going position by position, the only two units for Poly this
year that don't seem to be as good or better than last year is the
secondary and at running back. And while it's true that this
year's quarterback, Leon Jackson, can throw it much better than last
year's quarterback, Brandon Brooks, and that Leon is a much higher
ranked college recruit than Brandon was, you also have to remember how well
Brandon played in last year's De La Salle game. He had no turnovers,
displayed solid leadership and put his passes where they needed to be. Leon
can have all the talent in the world, but if he throws a pick or two vs. De
La Salle or suffers a fumble or two he will not have executed the offense as
well as Brandon did vs. De La Salle.
De La Salle does have a home field advantage since Cal's
Memorial Stadium is just over the hill from Concord. But it's an
advantage in name only. The Spartans have never played a game at Cal,
either, and it's not as if Poly has not traveled that far for a game.
The Jackrabbits' trip to Hawaii, with three nights in a hotel, should
really help them this weekend. In fact, this year the Poly players
won't have family and friends bugging them all day and night at home
heading into the game. Coach Raul Lara and staff can lock these guys into
their rooms and get them even more focused for what lies ahead.
The one intangible no one really knows about is what surprises
head coach Bob Ladouceur and staff have come up with this time. In 1999, the
Spartans came out in a triple wideout passing formation vs. Mater Dei and
sophomore quarterback Matt Gutierrez simply shredded the Monarchs, who came
out expecting to stuff the veer. Then last year, Ladouceur spotted something
on Poly's films and decided to launch Maurice Drew. He beat linebackers
all night, scored all four De La Salle touchdowns, and the national title
was all but wrapped up.
From the two games I've seen, I can't imagine a
similar surprise. I would say to look for creative ways in which Ladouceur
can put the ball in the hands of players like Damon Jenkins, Willie Glasper
and Cameron Colvin more often. I also remember that the Kahuku quarterback
had some success against Poly running the option. Look for perhaps Britt
Cecil to tuck it more than he has all season so far.
The two signs that don't look good for De La Salle is the
14 points the Spartans scored in their win over St. Francis of Mountain View
and the three touchdowns they allowed against St. Louis. Yes, Drew was out
vs. St. Francis but most of the last 10-12 teams the school has had still
would have scored 35 against a team that lost by 21-0 the week before. The
St. Louis offense also scored three times vs. the first-string De La Salle
defense and the Long Beach Poly offense is much more versatile and deeper
than the St. Louis offense.
While De La Salle's secondary is indeed terrific, the
problem vs. St. Louis was that the quarterback was under no pressure at all
even with four rushing from De La Salle. Defensive coordinator Terry Eidson
probably will have to mix it up a lot against Poly, blitzing corners and
safeties on some downs and dropping back eight on other plays. That is, if
Poly comes out throwing. The Jackrabbits could just as easily come out
running. While Hershel is gone, the Poly offensive line should have a much
bigger edge vs. the DLS defensive line with Derek Landri not in there. The
Poly backs are certainly good enough to run through holes when they are
The biggest advantage for De La Salle appears to be its
receivers against the Poly secondary. If Cecil has the time to throw and the
receivers play like they did against St. Louis, the De La Salle offense
might be able to keep the Poly defense off balance. If Poly is smart, it
will key on Drew and make the other players in the DLS offense beat
I guess what it boils down to is a feeling that De La
Salle's team this year is just a player short of where it's been
in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. There's no Matt Gutierrez and Derek
Landri. There's no D.J. Williams and Kevin Simon. The Spartans are
still better than 99 percent of the teams in the nation, but this time being
a player short and going against the deepest football team in the history of
the greatest high school sports program the nation has ever seen will make
history of a different kind. The streak ends: Long Beach Poly 27, De La
Here's the picks and reasons for them from other members of
Doug Huff says: De La Salle 28, Poly 26. The Streak has taken on
a life of its own but it has to end sometime...we think. The 129-game
football victory streak has to rank among the most amazing feats in high
school sports history. And winning 163 of its last 164 games is just as
remarkable. But The Streak faces another in a series of major tests of the
last few seasons. On paper, Poly should have won last year's matchup vs. De
La Salle and appears to have the edge again. But I'm sticking with De
La Salle until it ends.
Brian Stumpf says: Poly 31, De La Salle 21. Let me add to my
pick by saying that I'm a huge, HUGE believer in De La Salle, and after
seeing them take apart Poly a year ago, I never thought I would say what I'm
about to say. But 20 years after "The Play" made history in the
1982 Cal-Stanford game in Berkeley, Poly will make history again in Memorial
Stadium by snapping the Spartans' winning streak. Poly's depth and
balance is the difference.
Nelson Tennis says: De La Salle 29, Poly 15. Because De La Salle
is playing at home and I just don't think Poly is as good as last year.
They've been talking it up a lot, and DLS has been keeping it low key.
John Tawa says: Poly 27, De La Salle 21. Last year, the Poly
coaches tried to tell their players how quick and how precise De La Salle
was, but the players didn't want to believe it and thought their athleticism
would carry the day. Now they've seen the Spartans in person and will be
ready against a De La Salle squad that is showing some vulnerability. The
player of the game? Poly QB Leon Jackson, with his arm, his feet and his leg
(he punts for the team).
Greg Biggins says: Poly 28, De La Salle 24. This game is so
hard to call not as much because of who I think will win but a pact I made
about three years ago. After watching De La Salle smash Mater Dei for the
third time in a row, I was so impressed with their coaching staff and how
well the team executed that I made an oath that I would never pick against
De La Salle no matter who the Spartans were playing. After watching both
teams this year, I think Poly has the better team and will win the game. I
guess I have to break my oath, just this one time.
Sheldon Shealer says: Poly 21, De La Salle 17. Poly just looked
far more athletic in the games I saw on TV from Hawaii. The line looked big
and I really like that junior receiver (Derrick Jones).
Brentt Eads says: Poly 28, De La Salle 27 1/2. How can you
pick against DLS? Well, the streak has to end sometime, doesn't it? Poly has
three things going for it: the Jackrabbits are more of a team than last
year's squad, the coaches have a full year under their belt and no one will
take the Spartans lightly this time. But De La Salle is, for all intents and
purposes, at home and Coach Lad is the greatest coach in the history of high
school football, if not at any level. The Concord school should get a half
point for that fact alone.
Jason Deegan says: Poly 28, De La Salle 27. If the streak goes
down, it will go down on some freakish play to add to the legend of it 30
years from now. I foresee a blocked or missed extra point deciding it.
Jennifer Ezpeleta says: De La Salle 35, Poly 28. Bob Ladouceur
all the way. Great coaches make all the difference in the world.<
POLY-DLS: Who will win?
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