Poly Outlasts Lakewood, On To Pac-5 Finals

Poly's defense steps up when it matters most, leading the Jackrabbits to an exciting come-from-behind victory and a chance to win a second consecutive Southern Section title...

The Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits football program knows what it takes to win. Just go to any Jackrabbits game and speak with any one of the number of alumni in the stands or on the sidelines, and they'll recall their own personal Poly glory years. Alumni from different decades will argue how much more dominant their teams were, whether or not they were on the team or not. Despite this friendly banter, there is a zeal and respect amongst the Poly faithful that is unlike that of any other high school program in Southern California, and Friday night's Pac-5 playoff matchup against Lakewood was a clear example of that.

It was a packed stadium on the campus of Cerritos College, and the electric atmosphere resembled that of a major college football game. As amped up as both sidelines were, the first half did not provide much to be excited about for Poly fans. With three points already on the board, Lakewood quarterback Jesse Scroggins connected with his favorite target in wide receiver Kevin Anderson for an 8-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter of play. Poly would manage to get three points back on a 45-yard field goal late in the first half, but the score would remain 10-3 in favor of Lakewood going into halftime.

Whatever Poly head coach Raul Lara told his team in the locker room at halftime certainly got through. While the offense certainly made more plays to move the ball in the second half, the real story was how dominant the Poly defense played. On Lakewood's first offensive possession of the second half, the Poly defense forced a quick three-and-out, making Lakewood punt on 4th and 2 from their own 22-yard line.

Starting at their own 47-yard line, the Jackrabbits offense put ball in the hands of tailback Melvin Richardson, and the senior certainly did not disappoint. Poly's offense got the ball to the five-yard line to set up first and goal. After two consecutive Richardson runs of two yards each, Lakewood's defense held strong, but Poly was threatening now, only one yard out of the endzone. Richardson took the handoff and behind some good blocking, ran to his right and into the endzone for the touchdown, tying the game up at ten a piece with 3:49 remaining in third quarter.

Poly's defense continued their onslaught into the fourth quarter. Continuing their drive following Poly's score, Lakewood was threatening at the Poly 19-yard line. However, on first and ten, Poly's defensive pressure was enough that it forced a Lakewood fumble and possession went to the Jackrabbits. Lakewood's following offensive drive proved to be as fruitless as Poly's defensive line, led by senior end Iuta Tepa, pressured Scroggins into an incompletion, forcing a fourth down punt.

Midway through the fourth, the game had reached somewhat of a standstill, as Poly's offense was able to drive, but unable to finish. However, Poly's defense would come to the forefront, forcing some late turnovers that would change the tide of the game.

With less than six minutes left, Lakewood's offense was the recipient of a few Poly miscues, having first and ten at their own 42-yard line, following a pass interference and late hit flag against the Jackrabbits. Unfazed by the previous penalties, however, Poly's defense put the pedal to the floor, maintaining the same intensity that they had shown throughout the contest. Scroggins dropped back and threw to his right, but there to intercept the pass was Darius Williams-Fox. After a nice return, Williams-Fox and the Poly defense set up their offense with excellent field position at the Lakewood 20-yard line.

On the legs of Richardson, again, Poly was knocking on the doorsteps of Lakewood's endzone. While this time they were unable to punch it in for a touchdown, however, they were able to manage three crucial points on a field goal to give the Jackrabbits a 13-10 lead with three minutes to go in the fourth.

Scroggins and the Lakewood offense certainly knew the tough task that lay before them. With their season on the line, they had three minutes to drive down the field to either tie or win the game. However, no simple task when going up against a Poly defense that knew Lakewood had to advance the ball. After a run play of four yards to set up 2nd and 6, the next play proved to be the turning point in the game. Scroggins, facing pressure from Tepa to his left, scrambled to his right and delivered a ball over to his right, but senior defensive back Stanjarivus McKay picked off his pass, and was downed after a good return at the Lakewood 36-yard line.

Poly made quick work on the proceeding drive. On the first play, Richardson took the handoff, ran to his right behind his blockers, then, showing some shiftiness, cut back to the middle and took it to the house for a huge touchdown to make the score 20-10, following the successful extra point, with two minutes remaining.

Lakewood was unable to do much on their final drive, and the game ended fittingly with Tepa's second consecutive sack of Scroggins.

Long Beach Poly remains undefeated at 13-0 and is set to take on Tesoro on the 13th in the Pac-5 Championship game. The Lancers of Lakewood end their season with a record of 10-3.

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