Steam rises off the head of Gerard Wicks during the final quarter of Long… (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)
Long Beach Poly Coach Raul Lara sure knows how to tease his team's football fans.
Everyone knows the Jackrabbits' success in the postseason has come from running the ball, so why in the name of common sense were they attempting 18 passes during a 7-7 first half against Clovis North in Friday's CIF state regional Division I championship bowl game at Veterans Stadium?
Poly got back to running the ball in the second half, combined with a few clutch pass completions and a strong defense, and the Jackrabbits came away with a 28-7 victory.
"They came with a different defense, so we had to make an adjustment at halftime," Lara said.
Poly (12-3) advances to next Friday's Division I championship bowl game at the Home Depot Center against Granite Bay.
Quarterback Tai Tiedemann completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brock Meckelborg on fourth down early in the fourth quarter for a 14-7 Poly lead.
After that, it was all about the Jackrabbits running the ball out of a wildcat formation, with direct snaps to running backs Gerard Wicks and Manusamoa Lu'uga.
On a 90-yard, 16-play drive, 13 plays were run out of the wildcat formation. Wicks' two-yard touchdown run with 10:31 left sent Clovis North (12-2) plotting its trip back to the Fresno area.
Wicks rushed for 100 yards; Lu'uga had 95 yards.
But the quarterbacks certainly made contributions. Tiedemann had two clutch throws for first downs during the 16-play drive. And backup Eban Jackson delivered a nine-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to John Smith in the first half.
Poly came out flat to start the game, failing to pick up a first down on its first three possessions. The Jackrabbits abandoned their running game that had been so successful in propelling them to a Pac-5 Division championship.
But it was Jackson's nine-yard touchdown pass to Smith on fourth down in the second quarter that enabled the Jackrabbits to come away with a 7-7 halftime tie.
Clovis North quarterback Christian Rossi enjoyed some early success passing the ball and scrambling until Poly's defense made some adjustments. The Jackrabbits ended up with three first-half sacks. Clovis North's Bolu Olorunfunmi scored on a four-yard run in the first quarter.
Clovis North missed on field-goal attempts of 23 and 35 yards and had a 27-yard attempt blocked by Smith.
Poly was held to 33 yards rushing in the first half.
What the postseason has revealed is how talented Poly really is. Smith, a junior, has become a big-time college recruit. Junior defensive tackle Jason Fao has become a dominant player in the middle. And UCLA-bound linebacker Jayon Brown continues to fly all over the field on defense.
But in the end, Poly is about controlling the line of scrimmage and letting its running backs run. That's what finally happened.
In the Division IV game, Santa Fe Christian defeated Rio Hondo Prep, 30-28.