CIF STATE BOWL GAME PREVIEW
Open Division: Grant (Sacramento) 13-0 vs. Long Beach Poly 14-0,
Where: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: Southern California – FSN Prime Ticket; Northern California – CSN California.
FACTS AND STATS
Rankings — Grant: Nationally, No. 48 nationally by MaxPreps.com, No. 37 by ESPN; State, No. 8 by MaxPreps, No. 5 by Cal-Hi Sports. Long Beach Poly: Nationally, No. 4 by MaxPreps, No. 2 by ESPN, No. 3 by USA Today; State, No. 1 by MaxPreps and Cal-Hi Sports, No. 2 by USA Today.
Notable Alums — Grant: Ricky Jordan (Major League baseball player), Donte’ Stallworth (NFL), Ontario Smith (NFL). Long Beach Poly: Cameron Diaz (actress), Chase Utley (MLB), Billy Jean King (tennis), Snoop Dogg (rapper/actor), Tony Gwynn (MLB Hall of Fame), Gene Washington (NFL Hall of Fame), Willie McGinest (NFL).
Leading Rusher — Grant: Devontae Butler (175-1,850-36 TDs). Long Beach Poly: Melvin Richardson (186-1,439-23 TDs).
Leading Passer — Grant: Kipeli Koniseti (80-144-1,366-17 TDs). Long Beach Poly: Morgan Fennell (77-153-1,228-14).
Leading Receiver — Grant: Darvin McCauley (44-814-10 TDs). Long Beach Poly: Jordan Johnson (20-251-4).
Points per game: Grant 48.7, Long Beach Poly 27.8.
Points allowed per game: Grant 10.5, Long Beach Poly 8.9.
Small schools: Hamilton Union (Hamilton City) vs. St. Margaret’s (San Juan Capistrano) 14-0, 4:30 p.m.
Division I: De La Salle (Concord) 12-1 vs. Centennial (Corona) 14-0,
Division III: Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 13-0 vs. St. Bonaventure (Ventura), 13-1,
Division II: St. Mary’s (Stockton) 12-2 vs. Cathedral Catholic (San Diego) 13-0,
Tickets: Home Depot Center Box office, Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com; Tickets $15 for adults, $8 for high school student (with valid ASB card), seniors (65+) and children.
Nike Coaches Clinic: Saturday, , Agassi Pavilion. Clinicians are Pete Carroll and Chris Carlisle. More information, click here.
Ancillary events: California State High School Cheerleading and Dance Championships
Wednesday previews: Small schools, Division I.
Thursday previews: Division II, Division III
Friday previews: Open Division, Coach Lad on the brink of history
By Mitch Stephens
The first-ever Open Division/Premier Game of the State Bowl Championships might not be so much an offensive showcase or display in football artistry as it will be a flat-out, full-scale battle of wills.
Saturday’s contest at the Home Depot Center in Carson — the last of five Bowl games over two days — pits Grant (Sacramento) and Long Beach Poly in a showdown of toughness, not to mention undefeated and nationally-ranked teams.
“I told our guys that it’s going 12 rounds and you have to be willing to win every round,” Grant coach Mike Alberghini said. “You’re going to have to be willing to fight.”
Poly has shown a remarkable resilient quality the last two seasons, pulling out tough games late, no more evident than last week’s 20-17 victory over nationally-ranked and undefeated Tesoro, coming back from a 17-7 deficit, scoring two touchdowns in the last 6:38.
The Jackrabbits (14-0) fought back from deficits in all four playoff games, winning by a combined 24 points. Last year en route to their 17th of a record 18 Southern Section crowns they beat Orange Lutheran 2-0 in the semifinals and Crespi 13-3 in the finals.
In their toughest regular-season game this season, they needed a defensive stand to hold off defending state Division 3 Bowl Champion St. Bonaventure 12-7. They also opened the season with a 29-7 win at defending national champion Northwestern (Miami, Fla.).
“We just believe in each other,” Poly coach Raul Lara said. “We stay calm and are confident that someone will make a big play at the right time.”
The Jackrabbits have won more games than any team in state history and have produced more NFL players than any school in the country (more than 60). Beyond its vast and athletic personnel, Grant must battle a certain mystique and a hometown crowd. Carson is just a 10-15 minute drive from Long Beach.
Perhaps more than anything, Alberghini said, his Pacers will need to match an intimidation factor Poly always brings. Flying town kids from Del Paso Heights, one of the toughest neighborhoods from Sacramento, Alberghini isn’t terribly concerned on that front. He just wants his team to be aware Poly will attempt to impose its will.
“It’s not generally our nature to buy into intimidation,” Alberghini said. “We’re not a bunch of choir boys. We can be tough too. It’s just about us coming out and trying to bring the same will. I’ll tell our guys this is like the OK Corral, so, let’s go.”
Like Poly in the Southern Section, Grant has largely controlled the Sac-Joaquin Section over the two decades. Since Alberghini took over in 1991, Grant has won 15 league titles, gone to a section-leading 18 straight playoff berths and won six section crowns.
“They have great athletes and great program,” Lara said. “I saw them last year and they must have just reloaded. It’s going to be a giant challenge but our guys have shown they can take those on.”
GRANT OFFENSE, POLY DEFENSE
Led by a big, physical offensive front and primarily three big offensive weapons, the Pacers have averaged nearly 50 points a game. Many of those big scores came in league play, including an 89-0 victory over McClatchy, a score that Alberghini caught much heat for.
“We’d gone three or four games with our starters played less than a half,” he said. “The playoffs were two weeks away and they needed some work so I promised my starters they could play a half and that’s what they played. By then it was 72-0.”
The Pacers run a variety of sets, including the spread. Senior Kipeli Koniseti, who Alberghini describes as a linebacker playing quarterback, often takes the ball out of shotgun, picks a hole and runs it. The 6-3, 215-pounder has rushed for 777 yards and nine scores. He’s also an effective passer, completing 80 of 144 for 1,366 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His favorite receiver is Darvin McCauley (44-814-10 TDs) but the team’s true bread-and-butter is 5-11, 180-pound junior running back Devontae Butler (1,850 yards, 36 touchdowns), who didn’t start until the team’s third game. “We have three or four real good backs, but we decided to go by committee we’d commit to one so we picked Devontae,” Alberghini said. “He could be a real special one.”
He’ll be facing a very special defense, however, one of the best in the nation. Facing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, the Jackrabbits allowed only 8.9 points per game behind the one-two linebacking punch of George Daily-Lyles (149 tackles) and Matthew Jones (98 tackles) and one-two line punch of Iuta Tepa (102 tackles, 14 sacks) and Juwuan Brown (100 tackles). Stanjarvius McKay and Darius Williams-Fox each have four interceptions in the secondary.
Daily-Lyles and Tepa are All-American candidates.
“You have to be patient against their defense,” Alberghini said. “They’ll lull you into traps then you’ll try taking chances and forget it.”
POLY OFFENSE/GRANT DEFENSE
Lara, a probation officer, is a straight shooter. He makes no bones about what the Jackrabbits want to do.
“Run the ball and control the clock,” he said.
With Melvin Richardson (1,439 yards, 23 touchdowns) and Daveon Barner (1,131 yards, 7 TDs), along with a big, strong offensive line it makes a lot of sense. Much like Koniseti, senior quarterback Morgan Fennell can make things happen with his feet and arm. He seems to make big plays most when the Jackrabbits really need him, like he showed against Tesoro.
“They have a lot of playmakers but when it comes down to it in tough situations it seems like Richardson is their guy,” Alberghini said.
Indeed, Richardson, who has rushed for more than 100 yards four out of five games, busted off a 61-yard game-winner against Tesoro in the final three minutes.
Defensively, the Pacers are led by one of Northern California’s top linebackers in Jeremiah Toma (165 tackles, 10 sacks) to go along with Tony Matavale (136 tackles), Jordan Wallace (125 tackles) and Willie Johnson (104 tackles). The secondary of Howard Warren, McCauley and Marvin Lamb have four interceptions each.
“We’ll do what we need to do,” Lara said. “Our goal was to get here and now that we’re here and with all our hometown fans, we don’t want to disappoint.”
According to calhisports.com managing editor Ronnie Flores, Poly surpassed Bakersfield with the win against Tesoro and now has 684 victories. … Alberghini, 61, has been at Grant since 1969 and was the baseball coach for 18 seasons, winning 427 games. As the football coach he’s 191-32. … Asked if he’d consider retiring if he was victorious on Saturday, Alberghini said: “No, I’m still having too much fun doing this.” … Alum Snoop Dogg has been seen on the Poly sideline more than once this season and in Saturday’s win against Tesoro at Angel Stadium, another famous rapper Warren G. was sprinting down the sideline encouraging Richardson during his long game-winning TD run. … There was much hyperbole spread in CIF’s choice of Grant over De La Salle in the Open Division game. Alberghini’s reaction: “We were obviously elated. It’s exciting to be on the big stage in the biggest game. We worked hard over the years to be here. We deserved to be in.” … Lara, whose program’s only unresolved blemish is two decisive losses to De La Salle, said Monday he wasn’t surprised by the Grant selection nor did he communicate a preference: “Either way we were playing a great, great team.”… St. Bonaventure assistant coach and athletic director Mike Gianelli said Monday that the Seraphs and Long Beach Poly have agreed on a two-year contract, playing next season and Ventura and returning to Long Beach in 2010.
E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com