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Servite survives tension-filled quarterfinal against Poly

The Friars defeated the Jackrabbits, 21-18, to advance to a Pac-5 Division semifinal against Mission Viejo.

November 28, 2009|Eric Sondheimer

Emotionally exhausted. Physically drained. And that was how the fans felt after making it through Friday night's Pac-5 Division quarterfinal playoff thriller between Long Beach Poly and Anaheim Servite at a packed Veterans Stadium.

This was a game that will be talked about and debated for years. There were so many game-changing plays that anyone who thought they knew which team was going to win deserved to be considered a psychic.

In the end, Servite, the heavy favorite, survived with a 21-18 victory over a Poly team that proved it had made dramatic progress over the course of the season. But not enough. Servite will play Mission Viejo in the semifinals.

Here's what happened in a frantic, tension-filled fourth quarter.

Poly (6-6), trying to make the semifinals for the 14th time in 15 years, closed to within 14-12 of Servite (11-1) with 9:49 left on a three-yard touchdown run by Kaelin Clay.

Servite then moved the ball down field, but Sean DeRosa fumbled near the goal line, and it went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.

Clay, one of the fastest players in the Southland, ran 64 yards for a touchdown with 4:29 left, and Poly led, 18-14.

Servite got the ball back on its own six, and quarterback Cody Fajardo put together a drive to remember.

There were pass completions of six, 17 and 28 yards. He faced a fourth and three from the Poly 32. Servite called timeout. Then Poly called timeout. Tension mounted.

Fajardo scrambled looking for an open receiver. There was none. He finally threw a short pass toward Ainsle Johnson with 2:02 left. It fell incomplete. Poly players started to celebrate, but pass interference was called, giving the Friars a first down.

Servite faced another fourth down, this time from the nine-yard line. The Friars called timeout. Poly called timeout. Pressure was everywhere. Fajardo proceeded to complete a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Nicholls with 1:32 left for a 21-18 lead.

Poly wasn't finished. Quarterback Chris Leachman guided the Jackrabbits down to the Servite 22 with 11 seconds left.

Hayden Hunt came in to attempt a game-tying 39-yard field goal on third down. John Paul Onorato raced in and blocked the kick. It went out of bounds, and Servite was awarded the ball with three seconds left and ran out the clock.

"I think our guys kept battling, and I'm glad we had a senior quarterback," said Servite Coach Troy Thomas, who has beaten Poly three times in his five years as coach. "I wouldn't want anyone else back there than No. 4."

Fajardo played the way an MVP should. He scored a touchdown and passed for two touchdowns. At one point in the second half, he completed seven consecutive passes. He finished the game 16 of 25 for 180 yards. He also rushed for 93 yards. He has been intercepted twice all season.

"He's a heck of a player," Poly Coach Raul Lara said. "If they take care of business and win everything, he's the Pac-5 offensive player of the year. He's remarkable."

Poly turned in its own remarkable performance for a team that lost to Servite, 30-7, in its season opener.

Yes, there were some botched plays, none more costly than a fake punt the Jackrabbits tried on their own 23 in the third quarter that went for no gain and soon resulted in a Servite touchdown. There was a fake field goal that ended up short of a first down and more than 100 yards in penalties.

But the Jackrabbits' pride and toughness was on display. Running backs ran hard. Linemen blocked. And the defense was magnificent chasing Fajardo all over the field in the first half.

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