Who would have guessed?
All season long, Poly High had relied on its bone-jarring rushing attack to succeed, yet when push came to shove in Friday night's City Section 3-A Division championship game against Lincoln at East Los Angeles College, it was the Parrots' passing game and defense that made the critical plays in a 28-8 victory.
Sure, Jonathan Campbell rushed for 182 yards in 31 carries. And sure, Poly amassed 273 rushing yards and 386 yards in offense.
But big pass plays and big defensive plays--by wide receiver-defensive back Mike Vreeland and tight end-linebacker Gerardo Munoz in particular--proved decisive in the Parrots' first true City football title.
Poly (11-3) had won five previous titles--the most recent in 1928--before the implementation of a playoff format in 1934. Before that, the champion was either the City League titlist or was determined by a consensus vote of City officials.
Poly, the East Valley League runner-up to Sylmar, established dominance on the offensive line on its first drive, marching 75 yards in 14 plays for a 7-0 lead.
Thirteen of Poly's plays were runs, except for Vreeland's 15-yard reception of a Lance Garcia pass on a third-and-nine play from the Lincoln 18-yard line. Garcia, who completed four of four passes for 113 yards, scored on a two-yard run two plays later.
"We saw it open all night," Vreeland, a junior, said of the pass play. "We were just waiting for (Coach Fred Cuccia) to give us the call and he did. It was man-to-man coverage and we knew we could take them man to man."
After Lincoln (9-4-1) had taken an 8-7 lead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gaspar Ortega to his brother Marcelo, a wide receiver, Munoz got into the act.
On Poly's ensuing possession, the Parrots were faced with a third and 11 from their own 28. Garcia and Munoz then hooked up for a 40-yard pass that gave the Parrots a first and 10 at the Lincoln 32. A personal foul on the Tigers moved the ball to the 17. Five plays later, Campbell scored on a three-yard run that gave Poly a 13-8 lead.
After punts by each team, Lincoln drove to the Poly 26, but Vreeland intercepted an Ortega pass at the 15 and returned it to the Parrots' 40.
"I just happened to be in the right spot," Vreeland said of his first interception of the season. "The ball was there and I took it back the best I could."
Poly then marched 60 yards in eight plays--capped by Garcia's two-yard run--to take a 19-8 lead with 32 seconds left in the half.
Seven of the plays were runs, but Garcia's 44-yard hookup with Vreeland on a third and 10 from the Poly 40 keyed the drive.
With Poly leading, 22-8, late in the third quarter, Lincoln drove to the Parrots' 39-yard line, but defensive lineman Pedro Medina recovered Fernie Delgadillo's fumble, and Poly reeled off a 13-play, 61-yard march.
On Lincoln's next series, the Tigers marched to the Poly one but couldn't score.
On a third and goal from the one, Poly defensive back Danny Martinez knocked down an Ortega pass in the left corner of the end zone. After an illegal-procedure penalty on Lincoln, Munoz deflected a pass intended for Marcelo Ortega in the right corner of the end zone.
"Coach told me I had to cover my man," Munoz said, "and I just followed him and did the best I could."