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Eric Sondheimer / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Long Beach Poly leans on its rushing for now

October 04, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

In this era of spread offenses, shotgun formations and the belief that passing the ball is required to win a championship, Long Beach Poly is boldly challenging, if not mocking, the so-called trendsetters in high school football.

Coach Raul Lara is daring any opponent to line up and try to prevent the No. 2-ranked Jackrabbits from doing what they've told everyone they intend to do -- run, run, run.

"Let them be skeptical," Lara said. "If they can stop it, stop it. We're trying to win every football game. We're doing a pretty good job.

"Everyone has this illusion you have to throw the ball to win a championship. I'm not playing Arena football. I'm playing real football. You need defense and a run game."

No one can argue with the Jackrabbits' success this season. They improved to 4-0 overall and gained their 74th consecutive Moore League win Friday night with 32-15 victory over No. 19 Lakewood.

Running back Daveon Barner rushed for 125 yards in seven carries, had touchdown runs of two and 80 yards and scored on a 37-yard screen pass for Poly, which opened a 25-0 halftime lead and showed the semblance of a passing attack in the first half when quarterback Morgan Fennell completed six of nine passes for 100 yards.

That experiment ended abruptly in the third quarter after five passes included an interception and two near interceptions.

Lakewood quarterback Jesse Scroggins threw two touchdown passes in the second half and ended up 15 of 35 for 201 yards with one interception.

Poly won the Pac-5 Division championship last season with a similar run-first strategy, though its passing attack was adequate.

This season, though, the Jackrabbits have shown little progress in their passing game.

It's not as if Fennell, a senior, is lacking in experience. He was quarterback of the Jackrabbits last season, when he passed for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns.

But the Jackrabbits' passing attack struggled during seven-on-seven summer tournaments, and Lara has decided his team's running game and dominant defense is the best way to win.

"It's a successful formula with us, with an awesome defense," he said.

And Lara isn't embellishing how good the Jackrabbits are on defense. From the line, led by Iuta Tepa, to the linebackers, featuring the fearless Kenny Tuiloma, to the secondary, led by Stan McKay, let's see if someone can find a weakness.

The only problem with having a one-dimensional offense is what happens when the unexpected occurs, as in Poly committing 14 penalties, like Friday night, or falling behind in a game and then needing to rally with time running out.

That's when the ability to pass must be there.

There's also the threat that a top team could figure out a way to contain the Jackrabbits' rushing. No. 3-ranked Ventura St. Bonaventure (4-0), which has a quick, aggressive defense, takes its shot next Friday night at Long Beach Veterans Stadium.

What's interesting is that Poly's main rival for No. 1 in Southern California is Corona Centennial, which has become the standard for excellence on offense in terms of producing a balanced attack that features running and passing while employing a shotgun formation and no-huddle offense.

Lara has nothing against passing, though he said in his best Woody Hayes impersonation, "There are three things that can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad."

In most of Poly's games, the Jackrabbits will have too much talent to lose.

But at some point, the Jackrabbits had better be ready to pass in case of an emergency situation.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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