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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Long Beach Poly quietly building another powerhouse

Jackrabbits are under the radar, playing in soft Moore League. But defense and running game make them threats to repeat as Pac-5 champs.

September 22, 2013|Eric Sondheimer
  • Long Beach Poly receiver John Smith celebrates with a teamate after catching a touchdown pass against Serra during the Edison passing tournamnet last summer.
Long Beach Poly receiver John Smith celebrates with a teamate after catching… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

For the next seven weeks in high school football, 19-time Southern Section champion Long Beach Poly will be largely forgotten. It's almost as if the Jackrabbits go on fall hiatus, disappearing from public discussion as focus shifts to powerhouse programs in the Trinity, Serra and South Coast leagues.

"I'm pretty sure they'll forget about us," Coach Raul Lara said of the media, fans and future opponents. "It gives us time to improve and get everyone ready for the playoffs."

The disappearing act is a result of little competition in the Moore League, considered the weakest in the Pac-5 Division. Ever since Thadd MacNeal left Lakewood in 2011 to become the coach at Carlsbad, Poly hasn't been challenged.

Starting with this week's game against Long Beach Cabrillo through Nov. 8, Poly players will be pretty much competing against themselves, trying to get better in practice and using games to experiment.

At least this month, everyone saw glimpses of what the Jackrabbits (3-1) might become, particularly on defense. In the last two weeks, Poly has shut down the big-time rushing attacks of Corona Centennial and Bakersfield.

"Our defense is playing real well right now," Lara said.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Turley has one of the best lines in the Southland, led by Jason Fao, Joseph Wicker and Drew Ho. His linebackers are versatile. And defensive backs John "JuJu" Smith and Iman Marshall enable Poly to play lots of man coverage in the secondary.

On offense, Poly has gone back to doing what makes it so tough to beat — running the ball. The Jackrabbits are prepared to grind it out at a time when many teams have switched to spread offenses that rely on passing.

"You have to be able to run the ball and play great defense," Lara said. "If you have those two combinations, you can win a championship."

Don't forget that a year ago, everyone pretty much gave up on Poly after a 1-3 start, including a 56-0 loss to Harbor City Narbonne. The Jackrabbits regrouped in league and won the Pac-5. This season, Poly should be better than ever when it resurfaces in the middle of November.

Battle of the Bay

For the first time in seven years, Corona del Mar found itself on the winning side of its neighborhood rivalry game with Newport Harbor, known as the Battle of the Bay. The Sea Kings won Friday night, 34-14.

Corona del Mar is 4-0, has a 14-game winning streak and will be seeking its third consecutive Southern Division championship.

Cole Martin rushed for 194 yards in 33 carries. Quarterback Luke Napolitano had a touchdown pass and a touchdown run.

There was a packed house at Orange Coast College. The fan fervor, player intensity and community involvement are what high school football is supposed to be about.

Big games

There are still two weeks left before league play begins for a majority of schools, and here are big games this Friday: Huntington Beach Edison (2-1) vs. No. 2 Santa Ana Mater Dei (4-0) at Santa Ana Stadium; No. 3 Gardena Serra (4-0) at Narbonne (3-1); No. 15 Ventura St. Bonaventure (3-1) at No. 7 Mission Hills Alemany (4-0); No. 23 Canyon Country Canyon (3-0) at No. 16 Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (3-1).

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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