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Servite opens with upset of Long Beach Poly

The Friars knock off Long Beach Poly, The Times' preseason No. 1 team, 30-7. Servite lineman Kirifi Taula makes significant contributions.


Good defensive linemen are worth the price of gold in the NFL and at the college level, so understand the value of 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior Kirifi Taula of Anaheim Servite.

A crowd of nearly 10,000, eager to experience the first night of high school football, came to Long Beach Veterans Stadium on Thursday night and saw an overpowering Taula help Servite knock off the preseason No. 1 team, Long Beach Poly, 30-7.

Taula's first half was unforgettable. On Poly's opening possession, he sacked Dylan Lagarde on the Jackrabbits' six-yard line, then Rudy Guerrero blocked a punt, resulting in a safety.

Later in the first half, Taula tackled Poly running back Cory Westbrook three times behind the line of scrimmage.

Taula is also needed to play on the offensive line, so Servite Coach Troy Thomas must be careful how often he plays Taula on defense.

"They need me on offense," Taula said. "It's for the team."

The Friars' no-huddle offense, directed by quarterback Cody Fajardo, came out sharp and efficient. Fajardo completed his first 11 passes and finished the first half 14 for 18 for 126 yards with one touchdown to Chris Nicholls in helping the Friars lead at halftime, 16-7.

Fajardo also scored a touchdown and connected with eight receivers. He finished 16 for 22 for 156 yards.

Taula and Fajardo are still uncommitted, and that's news in an era where lots of top players are making college decisions before the first snaps of their senior year. Taula has been considered an elite prospect, with UCLA and other Pacific 10 Conference schools in pursuit.

But more important is his growth as a person. He started his career at Orange Lutheran, then was forced to leave because of a disciplinary matter. Servite took him in. "Thank God Servite gave me a second chance," he said.

Said Thomas: "He's really matured. I'm really proud of the person he's become."

It was a rough night for a proud Poly program that played a bunch of inexperienced sophomores and juniors. This team will get better, but the lumps could be coming again next week against powerful Ventura St. Bonaventure.

It was the second-worst defeat for Poly during Coach Raul Lara's nine seasons as coach.

Fajardo took apart the Poly defense like a surgeon, picking and choosing his spots.

Thomas was hardly celebrating, knowing there are many challenges ahead.

"All I know is if we had lost it wouldn't have been a big deal and winning isn't a big deal," Thomas said. "It's about getting better."

Thomas is back as defensive coordinator this season, having hired Matt Mitchell to direct the offense.

Thomas was defensive coordinator at Westlake Village Westlake when the Warriors won a Southern Section title. In 2004, he was defensive coordinator when Encino Crespi won a section title.



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