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ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Long Beach Poly shows true colors in upset victory over Lakewood

The Jackrabbits show they're still a force on the Southern California football scene following their 27-14 upset over their longtime Moore League rivals.

October 08, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

Maybe it was the pink tape wrapped around players' shoes that provided inspiration. Maybe it was the crowd of more than 11,000 that filled Veterans Stadium that offered incentive. Or maybe it was the response when your back is against a wall, the pressure is on and it's time to give up or fight back.

Whatever the reason, the proud football players from 18-time Southern Section champion Long Beach Poly rose up Friday night and showed that their tradition of excellence is very much alive in a 27-14 upset of No.5-ranked Lakewood in a battle for supremacy in the Moore League.

"The real Poly is back," an assistant coach shouted.

Junior quarterback Chaiyse Hales completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards, including touchdown passes of 18 yards to Earnest Pettway and four yards to Josiah Blandin. Running back Keltain Malveaux rushed for 109 yards. And the Jackrabbits' defense, strengthened by the return of several injured players, was magnificent behind linebackers Josh Fasavalu and Salamo Fiso.

"This is the group I thought we had," Poly Coach Raul Lara said.

Last season, Lakewood (5-1, 1-1) ended Poly's 80-game league winning streak. Poly (4-2, 2-0) came in with few visible signs it was ready for a turnaround, having put up little competition in losses to Ventura St. Bonaventure, 32-7, and Mission Viejo, 37-7.

But everything has suddenly changed.

"We were playing with JV guys on defense," Lara said.

One of Lakewood's touchdowns came on a 100-yard kickoff return by Allie Long. The other was set up by a fumbled Poly punt.

There was lots of pink around Veterans Stadium — pink balloons, pink shoes, pink bandanas. Both schools came together in using the game to raise awareness and solicit donations to find a cure for breast cancer. And Poly might want to wear pink the rest of the season.

Poly's offense was so boring. Simple run plays. Short passes. No attempts to throw deep. And it was beautiful to Poly fans who had seen too many turnovers and too many attempts at trying to make a big play in disheartening home losses. The strategy worked almost to perfection. Poly had a 14-7 halftime lead and didn't panic when Long's kickoff return tied the game to start the third quarter.

Poly didn't commit a penalty until there was 10:26 left in the second quarter. Hales got rid of the ball fast, completing five of seven passes for 73 yards in the first half. He also scored a touchdown on a one-yard run and guided scoring drives of 64 and 83 yards.

The pressure was on Poly's coaching staff to get its players to deliver an improved performance.

"We played horrible," Lara said of the loss to Mission Viejo. "We looked like a Pop Warner team."

Lara, in his 10th season, has faced criticism seemingly every season, even during championship runs in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008. But he's a Poly grad with thick skin.

"They can vicious me all they want," he said of fans who write derogatory comments on Internet sites.

The fans won't have any complaints after Friday's performance.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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