YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

PREP EXTRA / SATURDAY FOOTBALL PULLOUT : Esperanza Rally Falls Short Against Long Beach Poly


LONG BEACH — With all the big plays and key turning points, Long Beach Poly won not with a bang but a whimper Friday at Long Beach Veterans Stadium.

The Jackrabbits' 27-24 victory was only secure when a wobbly fourth-down pass from Esperanza quarterback Chris Stretch slipped out of the hands of Ryan Wilkins with a minute left.

The Aztecs, who had to chase the Jackrabbits from the game's first play, got as far as the Poly 30 in the final two minutes. On fourth and seven, Esperanza Coach Gary Meek decided against a long field goal.

"We came here to win a game, not tie it," Meek said.

He got neither. Stretch's pass was high. Wilkins grasped it for a second, then it slipped out.

Esperanza (3-2), ranked seventh in the Southern Section Division I poll, had closed from deficits of 21-7 and 27-16, but could not get over the hump. In the end, the Aztecs were one big play short.

"We wore them down and moved the ball," Meek said. "We just weren't there at the end. We made too many mistakes."

Right from the start.

Stretch's first pass was tipped by Bruce Carter and intercepted by Jerry Sprewell, who returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. It was one of many big plays by the Jackrabbit defense.

Stretch, who was averaging more than 200 yards passing per game coming in, was 11 of 26 for 92 yards. He was also sacked four times, twice by linebacker Vanrick Francis. Stretch also fumbled a snap, which was recovered by Sprewell, with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Poly defense overwhelmed the Aztecs' front line, providing good field position for an inconsistent offense. The Jackrabbits had to break a sweat on two touchdown drives, but they were only 49 and 55 yards. Both ended with Aaron Tyler touchdown runs, covering six and eight yards.

Tyler also returned a kickoff 79 yards to the Aztec four and then scored on a two-yard run in the first quarter. Poly (5-0), ranked fourth in Division I, led, 21-7, at the end of the first quarter.

But while the offense was picking up defensive handouts, it was doing its best to throw the game away. The Aztecs stayed close with opportunities provided for them by Poly quarterback Robert Toler.

Kareem Clark scooped up a Toler fumble and raced 59 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Anton Hector intercepted a Toler pass and returned it 58 yards in the third quarter to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Dahrin Footman.

Poly's defense held for the most part. The Jackrabbits returned only one defensive starter, but had given up only 36 points in four games. The Aztecs had been averaging 35 points per game, but the only offense they could manage came from Footman, who gained 145 yards in 23 carries.

Footman led a fourth-quarter drive that ended in a four-yard touchdown run by Stretch. Stretch ran for the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 27-24.

But that's as close as the Aztecs would get.

Los Angeles Times Articles