The Long Beach Poly football team is returning to the PAC 5 championship game, a destination which evaded them since they won it all in 2008 by virtue of its 13-10 victory over St John Bosco Friday night.
Poly started the season out slowly, going 1-3 in the preseason, prompting people to doubt the Jackrabbits’ success this season.
“Many people did not expect us to go far this year because of our poor start,” Poly head coach Raul Lara said. “But here we are, going to the championship game.”
Against Bosco, Poly had to fight turnovers and a thick fog cover in the second half to come from behind to advance to the finals against old nemesis Mater Dei next Saturday at Anaheim Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Tai Tiedemann scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard keeper up the middle with 8:33 remaining in the game.
Poly held the usually high scoring Braves to limited yards and only one first down in the first half, while being able to move down the field 82 yards, capped by running back Gerard Wicks 5-yard scoring run with 3:33 to go in the first quarter.
Wicks finished with 127 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. His backfield mate Manusamoa Luuaga added 52 yards on 19 touches.
Poly could not capitalize on other chances to score to widen the 6-0 lead in the first half. They were deep in Bosco’s territory but turned the ball over on downs when the ensuing passing play was called back by an offensive pass interference play.
“We did everything right,” Lara said. “We just couldn’t get into the end zone.”
Bosco however got back into the game by forcing Poly into two of its three turnovers which led to its points of the game.
Down 6-3 with Poly driving, Bosco’s Nijiel Hale intercepted a Tiedemann pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to take the 10-6 lead in the third quarter. In the previous series, the Braves’ Aaron Aragon stripped Wicks of the ball at the 29 yard line to give Bosco great field position and a chance at a 43-yard field goal, which Bosco kicker Reid Budrovich converted.
John “Juju” Smith, who caught a 42-yard pass to set up Tiedemann’s game-winning run then shut the door on the Brave’s final scoring chance as he intercepted a Josh Rosen’s desperation heave to seal the victory for the Jackrabbits.
“It was hard to see the ball,” Smith said, “ But we used our instincts. “
Poly met Mater Dei numerous times in the past, all of them in the post season, including three years in a row for the CIF championship in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
“We’re going to have an old school championship game Friday night,” Lara said.
“This was a great journey,” added Smith. “Nobody believed in us, but now we are going to the championship.”