By Mike Guardabascio (courtesy of www.gazettes.com/sports/poly)
November 11, 2017
Long Beach Poly needed a decisive third quarter to take control of a wild playoff opener against JSerra, but 19 unanswered points helped them get past the Lions and into the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs with a 60-44 victory.
Poly (9-2) will host top-seed Mater Dei at Veterans Memorial Stadium next week by virtue of winning a coin flip.
“This is fun, this is high school football, the best moments of your life for a 15, 16, 17 year old kid,” said Poly coach Antonio Pierce. “It’s great seeing us make plays in all three phases of the game. We didn’t want this to be our last Friday together.”
Poly scored on a punt return and an interception return, one of four takeaways by the defense.
The Jackrabbits and Lions traded touchdowns in a high-scoring first half, as JSerra didn’t punt once until the third quarter.
Poly fell behind 7-0 on a 59-yard touchdown pass by JSerra quarterback Matt Robinson on the first play from scrimmage. The Jackrabbits quickly answered as quarterback Matt Corral hit Darius Kryger on fourth and goal to tie the game. JSerra moved easily into Poly territory before Kejuan Markham picked off a deep ball by Robinson and returned it for a touchdown to put Poly up 14-7.
The Lions answered on their next drive with Robinson’s second touchdown to tie the game.
Poly’s ensuing drive was kickstarted by a 70-yard kick return from Malachi Tolliver which put the Jackrabbits on JSerra’s 14 yard line. Three plays later Corral hit Tolliver in the end zone to put Poly back on top.
JSerra’s ensuing drive covered 86 yards and ended on Robinson’s third touchdown pass, putting the Lions back into a tie. Poly’s next drive ended in a punt and the Lions took advantage, as Jamiel Henning scored on a short run to put JSerra up 28-21.
Needing an answer, Poly got it by turning to one of Southern California’s best all-around playmakers, Aashari Crosswell. Primarily a safety for Poly, Crosswell put in time at running back and scored on a short run to tie the game at 28.
The Lions took the lead for the last time on a field goal on their next drive, going up 31-28. The lead was shortlived as the Jackrabbits got a 65-yard run by Mike Mauai, capped by Crosswell’s second rushing touchdown.
Poly’s 35-31 lead ballooned in the third quarter as they took control of the game on defense, holding the Lions to a pair of three-and-outs on offense. The Jackrabbits scored on their first drive of the third quarter, a 20-yard pass from Corral to fellow All-American Jalen Hall.
After holding the Lions to a three-and-out, Poly’s Keon Markham blocked a JSerra punt, and Crosswell scooped up the ball and scored it, his third touchdown of the night. He also added an interception to cap a top-tier all-around game.
“We did what we had to do tonight, this was our night,” said Crosswell.
Poly wasn’t satisfied with the 48-31 lead—after forcing another Lions three-and-out, the Jackrabbits burned five minutes of clock on a long touchdown drive capped by a Mauai touchdown that put Poly up 54-31 going to the fourth quarter.
The Lions would get into the end zone in the fourth quarter including once with 11 seconds left, but Poly was able to run the clock out and secure the win. The Jackrabbits got an onside return for a touchdown from Elijah Juarez with just seconds left in the game. It’s the first time Poly has advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2014.