ANAHEIM, Calif. --
Back when the Long Beach Poly (Cailf.)
football team was bogged down with a 1-3 record, if someone would have told quarterback Tai Tiedemann
that his team would hoist the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division title plaque, he would have had a justifiable response.
"I would've said you were crazy. I would've said 'What team are you looking at if you're thinking we're gonna be the Pac-5 champions?'"
Maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea after all.
The craziest thing on the soggy Angel Stadium turf Saturday night was the Poly defense, and it was the catalyst in a 35-17 drubbing of
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
that extended an unlikely postseason run for the Jackrabbits. The team that was 1-3 with two of those losses coming in blowout fashion is now likely to hear its name called Sunday afternoon for a California Regional Bowl Game.See the newest MaxPreps Regional Bowl projections
"Everything is just hitting me right now. What a journey, but we did it," said Poly running back Manusamoa Luuga
, who rushed for 132 yards and two scores on 13 carries.
"Right after I scored right there, it was the dagger in the heart. Right
after we did that, that was heartless."
The play Luuga referred to was his 4-yard scoring plunge with 8:11 left that made it 35-10. And yes, that touchdown was an exclamation point of sorts. But in reality, the Poly defense was delivering daggers all night.
The Jackrabbits allowed minus-14 yards of total rushing in 30 tries, and though they yielded 308 yards to Chase Forrest
in the passing game, they also caused plenty of havoc there. John Smith's
interception and return from his own 18 led to that aforementioned Luuga score just four plays later. And with 6:18 left in the third quarter, Mathew Mitai
sacked Forrest from his backside and knocked the ball loose, allowing Jayon Brown
to scoot in from about 20 yards away to make it 28-10 Poly.See the Southern California playoff roundup
"Our defense played awesome today. We were freakin' messing it up for them, like
giving them a short field and they still couldn't get a first down in fourth quarter," Poly coach Raul Lara said. "We need
to do a better job offensively to help our defense, though."
The steady Poly offense gave the Monarchs few chances, and the one big one was ameliorated by that Poly defense. A fumbled snap on a punt attempt deep in Mater Dei territory gave the Monarchs the ball at the 8-yard line with 3:28 left in the third quarter, then Poly gave Mater Dei five chances - and stifled all of them. Three Forrest incompletions, a defensive holding penalty and another incompletion gave the ball back to Poly and pretty much summed up the offense vs. defense matchup.See the entire Pac-5 bracket
Poly lineman Jason Fao
was a part of the defensive line, and said that his group responded to
his coach's plea for more pressure on Forrest, who finished 28-for-53
with 316 yards passing.
"At halftime coach got on us and said we
weren't getting a pass rush. We came out in the second half and sacked
him a couple times, and that came out good."
"They're very strong and very phsyical," said Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson. "They made the plays when they had to and we didn't. We
had to throw it a lot, we were chasing points the whole time. At halftime we talked and I
said we needed to run the footbal. We weren't getting up to the second
level, to the linebackers. I thought we pass protected well but we needed to be balanced and we weren't."
Mater Dei was indeed chasing points, and was also having trouble chasing Gerard Wicks
and Luuga. The two combined for 106 yards on six carries in the first quarter, including Luuga's 71-yard scoring run.
Poly capped its first drive with a 21-yard connection from Tiedemann to Smith, and after a turnover on downs from Mater Dei, Luuga went for his 71-yarder with 4:48 left in the first. A 24-yard field goal from Tim Strader
made it 14-3, but Poly retorted with a magnificent 38-yard post pattern from Tiedemann to Thomas Tucker
that saw him beat three defensive backs to increase the lead.
Forrest found Nikolas Little
for a 22-yard score in the final minute of the half to make it 21-10 at halftime, just before the rain started to fall. Mater Dei's other score came with 1:44 left in the game when Mailk McMorris
scored from 1 yard.
"This was probably the biggest game I've ever played in," Luuga said. "When we got off
the bus and walked into the stiadum it was so electric. You see all the
lights and the seats and walking through the dugout to the locker room, what an experience."
Luuga's backfield pal Gerard Wicks
tallied 53 yards on 14 carries, and Tucker hauled in four passes for 67 yards. For Mater Dei, Thomas Duarte
caught eight balls for 105 yards and Humphreys caught nine for 99.
Poly has now won 10 straight games and an astounding 19 Southern Section titles. It will now look to add regional and maybe state titles, as the teams will be announced Sunday.
Lara is pretty certain his team will be selected.
"I was told that the Pac-5 winner is gonna be guaranteed to go, so I
guess we're going. I would love to play Narbonne again but I don't know
in reality if that will happen," he said, referring to the team that beat Poly 56-0 earlier this season. "Whatever they give us they give us, if
they even give it to us."