California Division I Bowl Game:
Long Beach Poly (12-3) vs. Granite Bay (12-3)
FACTS AND STATSRankings - Long Beach Poly:
Nationally No. 12 by MaxPreps, State No. 3; Granite Bay:
Nationally No. 92 by MaxPreps, State No. 15.Notable
alums – Long Beach Poly:
DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles), Marcedes Lewis (Jacksonville Jaguars), Winston Justice (Indianapolis Colts), Willie McGinest (14-year NFL player), Mark Carrier (1990 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year), Tony Gwynn (MLB Hall of Fame), Billie Jean King (retired tennis star), Cameron Diaz (actress) and Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg).
Sammie Stroughter (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Adam Jennings (three seasons in NFL), Alyssa Anderson (2012 London Olympics gold medalist in 4x200 free), Natalie Gulbis (LPGA player).
Leading rushers –
Long Beach Poly: Gerard Wicks
(205 carries-1,440 yards-18 TDs); Manusamoa Luuga
Granite Bay: John Cooley
(277-1,556-17); Tony Ellison
(143-1,144-11); Taft Partridge
(109-789-9).Leading receivers –
Long Beach Poly: John Smith
(47 catches-689 yards-8 TDs); Thomas Tucker
(33-391-5); Luuga (21-252-3).
Granite Bay: Tony Ellison
(48-585-8); Steven Graber
(26-357-11); Ty Serna
Long Beach Poly: Tai Tiedemann
(76 of 155-1,049 yards-12 TDs-10 INTs); Eban Jackson II
(71-132-768-7-4). Granite Bay: Grant Caraway
(142-218-1,761-27-5).Points per game (allowed): Long Beach Poly
- 31 (16.2); Granite Bay -
By LELAND GORDON
The Division I title game is the ultimate proof of how it's much more important to finish strong than it is to start fast. And it's also a reminder not to count out teams with legendary coaches - you may get burned.
Long Beach Poly and Granite Bay each began their 2012 campaigns with matching 1-3 records, and each will finish their seasons on the Home Depot Center turf in Friday's marquee contest. That's certainly shocking to those who wrote each program off after their rough starts.
An 11-game win streak will erase any early-season qualms, and that is what each team totes into the matchup. What they also tote are prolific rushing attacks and histories laden with titles.
The Grizzlies from Granite Bay, located east of Sacramento on the shores of Folsom Lake in southwest Placer County, punched their ticket with a commanding 45-17 triumph over St. Ignatius (San Francisco) in the Regional Bowl Game. It featured the familiar trademarks of coach Ernie Cooper's offense: great line play, lots of tricky running and a victory.
"We prepared all year to play our best game, and I thought we were pretty darn close to our best game," Cooper told the Sacramento Bee's Joe Davidson.
Cooley romped for four touchdowns last week and the team racked up 319 rushing yards. That paled in comparison to the 542 they collected when they beat Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final. This season, the Grizzlies averaged 273.3 rushing yards per contest.
"It was scary at first (to start 1-3), but we are destined to win state," said Cooley. "All (last) week, Cooper said we are a special team, and he said we are the best team to ever come through Granite Bay. It shows now."
For the Jackrabbits, their appearance might be even more unexpected than Granite Bay's. Poly's three losses came consecutively after winning the season opener, and two weren't close: 56-0 to Narbonne (Harbor City) and 29-6 to Bakersfield.
But here they are, and it is thanks to a spirited playoff run through the Pac-5 Division led by a bruising running game and greatly improved offensive line, not to mention a defense that stops the run and forces turnovers.
"I think what everybody's kind of missing - and I think the two running
backs will tell you - we have two great running backs, but the reason
our running game has been so successful is because of our offensive line
play, our tight ends play and our fullbacks," Lara told the Long Beach
Press-Telegram before his semifinal win.
Lara has won five section titles at Poly, and Cooper has secured five as well.LONG BEACH POLY OFFENSE VS. GRANITE BAY DEFENSE
The Jackrabbits are most comfortable running the ball in a powerful style from pro-style formations and sometimes the shotgun. And the Wildcat formation has paid huge dividends in the postseason, so that is certain to be part of Lara's gameplan.
Wicks and Luuga share the rushing duties, almost in a system that could be called alternating. Each runs extremely well between the tackles and isn't afraid to get rough for the hard yards. For example, they rolled up 446 rushing yards in their playoff opener against Bishop Amat (La Puente).
Wicks is committed to Washington State.
The Jackrabbits don't lean on the quarterback position to win the game. Tiedemann and Jackson have each seen time under center this season, with Jackson seeing significant action in the Regional Bowl victory. Whoever throws has Smith as a target, and he's a proven playmaker who can track down the home run ball.
and Jason Fao
are the big movers on the offensive line.
The team rolled up 446 rushing yards in its
playoff opener over Bishop Amat (La Puente).
Granite Bay's defense is hoping for throws, as it has nabbed 11 interceptions in its last five games. The team has 21 this season, led by five from John Cooley
. The Jackrabbits have thrown 14 interceptions this season.
The Grizzlies also are led by leading tackler and sophomore Cameron Smith
, who has 189 total tackles, which leads the team by 79. Mason Conen
is next with 110. They do allow points, however they don't allow anywhere near how many points the offense scores.GRANITE BAY OFFENSE VS. LONG BEACH POLY DEFENSE
This is where the game should be won or lost. The Poly defense has been red-hot, and the Granite Bay offense has used its fly offense to terrorize defenses for years.
Ellison is the fly back and that makes him a weapon in the running and passing games alike, as he leads the team in rushing yards and is second in receiving yards. Expect him to do a lot of work outside the tackles. Cooley and Partridge are more bruising-type runners who can do work inside.
Caraway throws somewhat often, and doesn't turn the ball over, with just five interceptions compared with 27 touchdowns, and he's leading an offense that hasn't scored fewer than 35 points in any postseason game. The Grizzlies, as usual, have been run-oriented with just 12 total completed passes in the past two games.
Poly's defense is beastly down low. Stopping the speed and misdirection of Granite Bay is unlikely to scare the Jackrabbits. They held Clovis North to seven points last week, limited Mater Dei to minus-14 rushing yards in the Pac-5 final, and in the Pac-5 semifinals, yielded just a field goal (there was a touchdown allowed on an interception return).
Fao is a formidable force down low for Poly, and Lajay Kelly
has an impressive 9.5 sacks this season. In the defensive backfield, Jayon Brown
(UCLA commit) has racked up 88 tackles to lead the team. Smith is a turnover hawk in the defensive backfield with six interceptions as well.EXTRA POINTS
Granite Bay is the third program from the Sierra Foothill League to compete in the State Bowl Games (Rocklin and Del Oro also had bids), and beat both those teams this season ... Granite Bay opened in 1996 while Poly opened in 1895 ... Sports Illustrated named Long Beach Poly the "Sports School of the Century" ... The Jackrabbits obviously have the travel advantage, as their campus is 10 miles from the Home Depot Center ... Long Beach Poly played in the 2008 Open Division game, losing to Grant (Sacramento) 25-20 ... The Grizzlies are 0-2 against the Southern Section this season.Watch more videos of Long Beach Poly football