Football: Long Beach Poly Wins Pac-5 Title

Jackrabbits defeat playoff rival Mater Dei, 35-17, to win the Pac-5 championship.

The rivalry is one of the best in the Southern Section, though it's not like a couple of neighborhood schools.

But when the neighborhood is football, intensity doesn't run much hotter than Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei.

Led by a stout defensive effort and a solid offensive one, Poly upset fourth-seeded Mater Dei, 35-17, in front of 12,736 at Angel Stadium to win its first Pac-5 championship since 2008. That victory over Tesoro came on the heels of defeating Encino Crespi in the 2007 title game.

It's the 19th championship in 23 title games for Poly. Mater Dei has won nine championships.

The victory completed a remarkable turnaround by Poly, which lost three (in a row) of its first four games: 20-12 to Gardena, 56-0 to Harbor City Narbonne, and 29-6 to Bakersfield.

But after winning the Moore League, the Jackrabbits defeated La Puente Bishop Amat, undefeated Mission Viejo, undefeated (on the field) St. John Bosco and Mater Dei, whose only previous losses were to Bosco and Narbonne, 18-17.

Bosco and Mater Dei finished 1-2 in the Trinity League, which has had the last three champions, Servite (2009, '10) and Santa Margarita (2011).

It's hard to believe anyone could have beaten the Jackrabbits Saturday.

"We'll be blessed (to play again) but we would love a rematch with Narbonne if that was possible, just to see how much we've improved. ... ," said Poly coach Raul Lara, who has now guided the Jackrabbits to five titles.

"All I know is we were pretty good tonight."

In all likelihood, Poly (11-3) will play Clovis North (12-1), the Central Section Division I champion, in the playoff to go to the Division I Bowl Championship at the Home Depot Center in two weeks. The Open regional game will likely pit Narbonne (14-0) against Corona Centennial (13-1). The announcements come on Sunday afternoon.

"Right now, they're on a roll," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said of Poly. "Their defense is tremendous and they can go toe-to-toe with Narbonne. They're not the same team that played them in September."

Mater Dei still leads the series against Poly, 6-5-1. It was the first meeting in a title game since a 1999 tie; that was the rubber game of three consecutive championships contested by the two teams.

There was no chance of a tie on Saturday.

Poly scored on its first three possessions and threatened to run away with the game. After recovering an onside kick to start the game, JuJu Smith scored from 21 yards on a pass from Tai Tiedemann a little more more than three minutes in. Next possession, wildcat quarterback Manu Luuga scored on a 71-yard run to go up 14-0.

The wildcat formation was a new wrinkle to the offense, and it was one of the differences.

Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Thomas Tucker got behind the Mater Dei secondary to pull in a 38-yard strike from Tiedemann for a 21-3 advantage.

Mater Dei took what it could get on offense and had settled for a 25-yard field goal by Tim Strader in the opening minute of the second quarter. But in the final seconds, the Monarchs salvaged the half in the final minute when Chase Forrest scrambled to his right and hit well-covered Nikolas Little for a 22-yard score to cut it to 21-10.

Poly may have gotten lucky before the half ended when London Iakopo clearly intercepted a pass off a Poly receiver's foot and began a long return, but the play was inadvertantly whistled dead. Had Iakopo scored it might have been a different game. He didn't and it wasn't.

"We had opportunities in the first half (but) had a TD called back, had a wide receiver wide open—you can't leave points like that off the board," Rollinson said. "In the second half, I think (Poly) smelled blood and we didn't respond."

Mater Dei had trouble keeping up with Poly's offense, so their troubles were compounded when the Jackrabbit defense joined the scoring fray midway through the third quarter. Matt Mitai ripped through Forrest causing a fumble, and Jayon Brown—who had an outstanding game even before this play—scooped it up and returned it 16 yards for a 28-10 lead.

Luuga added a second score, from 3 yards, with 8:11 left that put Mater Dei on ice, 35-10. Luuga gained 132 yards in 13 carries, and Tiedemann completed six of 14 passes for 100 yards and two TDs.

Gerard Wicks rushed 14 times for 53 of Poly's 153 total yards rushing.

Mater Dei added a score with 1:44 to go, a 1-yard run by Pule Moalitele, to make it 35-17.

Chase Forrest, who completed 28 of 53 with an interception, passed for 308 yards. He was sacked five times, by different players, as Mater Dei finished with minus-14 yard rushing.


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