In a season filled with highs and lows, exhilaration and heartbreak, Long Beach Poly couldn't overcome five interceptions and was beaten by Granite Bay, 21-20, in the CIF state championship Division I bowl game on Friday night before 7,361 at the Home Depot Center.
Poly (12-4) rallied from a 14-7 deficit in the second half to put itself in position to win. John Smith caught a 28-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the third quarter to tie the score.
Then Manusamoa Lu'uga gave the Jackrabbits a 20-14 lead after an 11-yard touchdown run with 3:47 left. The conversion kick was no good.
But Granite Bay (13-3), a team that started the year with consecutive losses to Westlake Village Westlake and Westlake Village Oaks Christian, put together a 76-yard drive behind quarterback Grant Caraway. John Cooley ran three yards for the touchdown with 1:12 left, and Colin Brown's conversion kick was the game winner.
"Defense is the story tonight," Caraway said. "They got all those picks."
Dylan Keeney had two interceptions, including a 29-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Grizzlies a 14-7 lead in the third quarter. Aaron Knapp also had two interceptions.
Eban Jackson, largely forgotten all season as the backup quarterback for Poly, passed for two touchdowns and completed six of 10 passes for 141 yards with two interceptions. Lu'uga rushed for 104 yards.
"We took them for granted," Lu'uga said. "They wanted it more. We didn't finish strong and they got what they deserved. They were more aggressive. Our running game started slowly."
Poly had won 11 consecutive games, knocking off the likes of Mission Viejo, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Santa Ana Mater Dei. But Granite Bay was able to stop the Jackrabbits' running game just enough, forcing them to rely too much on the passing game.
Poly came away with a 7-3 halftime lead on the strength of a successful flea flicker late in the first quarter. Gerard Wicks caught the 39-yard touchdown pass from Jackson after taking a pitch, then handing it off to receiver Thomas Tucker, who lateraled the ball back to Jackson, who fired it to a wide-open Wicks down the right sideline.
Home Depot wins bid for next 2 years
The CIF announced Friday that it has awarded its state championship bowl games to the Home Depot Center for 2013 and 2014, but Executive Director Roger Blake indicated that Northern California will get to host the event starting in 2015.
The CIF is moving toward rotating its football and basketball championships between Southern California and Northern California. Sacramento's Power Balance Pavilion has been the longtime site for the basketball championships, and its contract to host the state championships runs out after the 2015 season.
So if all goes as planned, a Northern California site will be chosen to host football in 2015 and a Southern California site will be chosen to host basketball in 2016.