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Sunday, December 09, 2007

LB Poly takes Southern Calif title for 17th time

So Long Beach Poly won another title, which makes it sound easy. It wasn't. Ranked as high as fifth in the nation pre-season, the team lost its opening game, 20-7, and was thereafter unranked and underestimated. Though always feared.

Following from afar, distracted by more pressing matters, I still was gratified to check in on Sunday mornings by reading the LA Times and the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram for the score of the previous night's game. I saw Poly marching on. Getting stronger, playing defense more cohesively, relying on a ground game as is the Jackrabbit tradition.

Last week Poly took on Orange Lutheran, who'd they lost to last year by a missed extra point with seconds left. On a rain soaked field, Orange was forced to punt on its first possession. The snap went over the kicker's head, into the end zone, where the punter ran it out for a safety. 2-0 Poly, with two minutes gone.

Orange, averaging 30 points a game, never scored. Poly pulled off two goal-line stands, in the last seconds of the first half and at the end of the game. Final score, 2-0.

In the final game, last night, Poly defeated Crespi 13-3, in the rain. That's 3 points allowed in two championship games: congratulations to coach Raul Lara and defensive coordinator Jeff Turley. These were tense games (Poly led Crespi by 6-3 at half and through most of the third and fourth quarters). High school kids playing without a letdown in the biggest show of their lives.

Thanks to Poly for allowing me to wear my colors - green and gold - on a cold wet Sunday in New York, far from Long Beach, Calif. Below are some game stories:

Stars pass along winning tradition
Article Launched: 12/08/2007 11:41:42 PM PST


As impressive as Long Beach Poly High's championship football legacy may be, it's the continuity of the program that leaves one marveling.

One attends a cold, wet CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division title game at Home Depot Center in 2007 and memories of past stars pop up in the course of Poly claiming its unprecedented 17th CIF title, 13-3 over Crespi before 14,898.

Vaughn Telemaque dives here for one interception, and dives there perfectly parallel to the ground for another, and then clinches the game with a leaping interception in the end zone on Crespi's last gasp drive.

He threw a virtual shutout of Crespi's Notre Dame-bound tight end Joseph Fauria, and it's almost impossible to not think of Mark Carrier, the former Poly and NFL standout. Or Marques Anderson, Chuckie Miller, Marquez pope, Omar Stoutmire and Darnell Bing, because Telemaque may be as good as any.

He certainly was the difference Saturday, on a defense that deserves credit for this title more than most. The Jackrabbits allowed just 106 points all season in a 13-1 season, and just 24 in four playoff games.

The lone touchdown Santa Margarita scored in the first playoff win came on a fumble return.

Newport Harbor scored a touchdown on a short drive set up by a turnover, and their last versus the second team. In the semis and finals, Poly allowed one field goal.

Then on the other side of the ball there was Melvin Richardson, a stout, quick 5-10, 195-pound junior running back who is reminiscent of former Georgia standout Herschel Walker in size and style, but for Poly fans will now join the same company as Herschel Dennis, Kirk Jones, Willie Brown and Dee Andrews as a classic difference-maker.

Richardson turned a run to the left into a 69-yard touchdown on Poly's first offensive series for a 6-0 lead, and then carried for gains of 7, 6, 19 and the scoring play of four yards in the fourth quarter to give Poly a 13-3 lead and the game.

That doesn't even include the 50-yard run that would have made it three touchdowns and a larger margin called back by a penalty. Richardson finished the night with 148 rushing yards.

Poly's 17th title is the third for Raul Lara since becoming Poly's head coach in 2001, adding to the titles he claimed in 2001 and 2004. He moves closer to the cr me of Poly lore, one behind Orian Landreth, who won four in 1929, 1930, 1934 and 1936, and one behind Jerry Jaso (1985, 1997, 1999, 2000), the first coming as co-coach with Thomas Whiting.

Dave Levy won back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1959. Ed Kienholz (1919), Art Schuettner (1923) and Jim Barnett (1980) also won titles, and Poly also claimed a lower weight CIF title in 1927.

Of course, nothing comes easy for Poly. As good as they are and as stout as the program may be, they always seem to take the rockier path to championships.

Only one of the titles since 1997 - they've won six in 11 years - came by a significant margin, the 21-6 win over Los Alamitos in 2004 that was also won in the final quarter like Saturday's. Poly beat Mater Dei by three in 1997, earned a co-title with a 1999 tie, and beat Loyola by three points in overtime in 2001.

The losses were close, too - a touchdown loss to Mater Dei in 1998, a one-point loss to the Monarchs in 2002, and a four-point loss to Loyola in 2003. Last year's semifinal loss to Orange Lutheran was by a point.

Poly couldn't have begun the game with more momentum. Richardson found a seam in the Crespi line and then split two defenders on the way to a 69-yard touchdown run just 64 seconds into the game.

But despite several opportunities and good field position, most of them coming courtesy of Telemaque, Poly was unable to build on that early score.

For starters, Jonathan Heinze's kick after Richardson's score hit the post so the lead was just 6-0.

Telemaque followed with two diving interceptions of Crespi quarterback Brian Bennett on the Celtics' first two possessions, the first setting Poly up at midfield, but the Jackrabbits went three-and-out.

Telemaque's second pick, a full out dive in front of Fauria, put Poly on the Crespi 30. Four runs later, Poly had a first-and-goal at the four, but Richardson lost the ball when hit at the two and Crespi recovered.

Poly drove into Crespi territory again on their next possession, and a 29-yard screen pass to fullback Iosefo Mikaele should have put the ball on the Crespi 15. But a holding penalty away from the play pushed Poly back to the 29, and another penalty put them further back, and Heinze's 50-yard field goal attempt was short.

Crespi went on their best drive of the night from there, converting six first downs to set Christian Nastos for a 32-yard field goal. The drive was aided by a third down holding penalty by Poly deep in Crespi territory.

Poly had the ball for only eight minutes in the first half but held a 6-3 lead.

But despite the squandered chances, Poly's defense never broke. After a bad punt snap set Crespi up at the Poly 34, the defense fought off the Celts and forced a field goal attempt. Romeo Robinson blocked a potentially game-tying field goal that wasn't ever going to reach orbit.

After Poly made it 13-3, Sheldon Armstrong and Telemaque broke up passes on Crespi's next drive. By the time Crespi got the ball again, there was just four minutes to go and it took almost all of the time for Crespi to get close - at which time Telemaque stepped up again with the game-clinching pick.

And 17th title, and more memories for the Poly vault.

**********

Players' future also a priority for Poly
By Bob Keisser, IPT

Walking through the Poly gym to the office of head coach Raul Lara provides the atmosphere of a blue-collar museum, every nook opening to a different location for the football team.

Film room. Meeting room. Locker room. Plastered on the walls are championship plaques and pictures of former Jackrabbits now performing in college or the NFL.

Then you get to the room adjacent to Lara's office, and sitting there is Lara's assistant, Monica, with all kinds of collegiate stuff on her desk, and a white grease board behind her with the name of every Poly player.

It doesn't list them by position. It has columns indicating what SAT or ACT test they've taken, written in code and different colors to indicate when the student passed the test or when he's due to take it. Then there's another column indicating what schools have made earnest contact with Poly players about a scholarship.

As the season comes to an end after tonight's CIF Southern Section Pac-5 title game against Crespi at the Home Depot Center, and perhaps a state title game next weekend, that board will begin to fill up with more numbers, codes and names as colleges come Jackrabbit hunting.

"It's been a great asset," said Lara, who was on the phone talking to a college coach about a player when I walked in his office Wednesday. "Having an aide who handles all of this is such a great resource for me and the kids."

A former Poly standout made it happen. Lara was attending an NFL Summit for high school coaches and heard Gene Washington, the former Poly, Stanford and NFL standout and now one of the NFL's top execs, talk about the league's Play It Smart program.

This is the program. The league helps set up schools with the essentials to run its own academic clearinghouse and help steer kids to college.

I can remember how Jerry Jaso always had a clipboard in his desk with a list of players and notations on test scores and what schools were interested. He would often get on the phone and start calling smaller schools looking to get some of his lesser-known or smaller players an opportunity.

This system makes it much easier for everyone. It also underscores that for all of our fascination for Poly athletics, the school's motto about "academics" is taken seriously in the gym and on the field.

************
Eric Sondheimer: LA Times

Poly beats Crespi for Pac-5 title

Defense again is the key for the Jackrabbits as Richardson's running and Telemaque's three interceptions lead the way.

December 9, 2007


On a rain-drenched field at the Home Depot Center, Encino Crespi and Long Beach Poly engaged in an all-out defensive struggle, each team daring the other to find a way to succeed.

Poly junior running back Melvin Richardson took on the challenge and delivered, scoring on touchdown runs of 69 and four yards to help the Jackrabbits defeat Crespi, 13-3, to win the Pac-5 Division title Saturday night.



It was the 17th Southern Section championship for Poly (13-1), which last week also used its defensive superiority to defeat Orange Lutheran, 2-0, in the semifinals. Richardson finished with 157 yards in 17 carries. Senior defensive back Vaughn Telemaque had three interceptions.

Now it's up to the 10 section commissioners from the California Interscholastic Federation, high school's governing body, to decide at a gathering today in Carson which six schools will be selected for the CIF state championship bowl games next Saturday at the Home Depot Center.

The toughest decision involves trying to choose the Division I representative from Southern California. It's a likely choice between City Section champion Lake Balboa Birmingham and Inland Division winner Corona Centennial.

Birmingham defeated Poly during the regular season, so the Patriots are hoping a victory over the newly crowned Pac-5 champion sways the voters. But Centennial owns a win over Crespi, a team Birmingham lost to.

*****
Eric Sondheimer: LA Times

Long Beach Poly: secondary to none

December 7, 2007


Long Beach Poly has produced more NFL players than any high school in California, and the position that college coaches count on for the Jackrabbits to deliver a top prospect every season is defensive back.

Former Poly defensive backs are scattered around the nation, from Donovan Warren at Michigan to Vincent Joseph at USC, from Rodney Van at UCLA to Byron Davenport at Washington.

In the past, there was Mark Carrier, Darnell Bing, Marquez Pope, Marques Anderson, Anthony Cobbs, Omar Stoutmire, Darrell Rideaux. . . .

"We can go on and on," Poly Coach Raul Lara said. "We can probably name 30 guys."

So it should come as no surprise that as Poly (12-1) prepares to take on Encino Crespi (11-2) in the Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship game Saturday night at the Home Depot Center, defense remains the Jackrabbits' specialty.

Their senior safeties, Vaughn Telemaque and Herman Davidson, form the best safety duo in the Southland. Telemaque has offers from USC, Michigan and Oregon. Davidson is being recruited by Michigan, North Carolina, Mississippi and San Diego State.

Telemaque could be a better safety prospect than Bing, who was a standout at USC. The senior is 6 feet 1, is fast and hits people with tremendous ferocity.

"The bigger he is, the harder he falls," Telemaque said of his upcoming assignment: stopping 6-8 Crespi tight end Joseph Fauria.

Both safeties have six interceptions. And Poly's two senior cornerbacks, Jeffrey Johnson and Sheldon Armstrong, can more than hold their own.

The Jackrabbits pulled off one of the most memorable goal-line stands in school history last week in the second quarter of their 2-0 semifinal victory over Orange Lutheran.

Four times the Lancers tried to score from the one-yard line on running plays. Four times they were stuffed inches short of the goal line.

"It's got to be right up there at the top of anything I've ever seen," Poly defensive coordinator Jeff Turley said.

Then, in the final 30 seconds, Poly came up with another goal-line stand from the one, recovering a fumble to preserve the victory.

There's so much pride Poly players have when they wear their green jerseys.

"That green is golden," Telemaque said. "It really means something when you put on the Poly uniform."

Then there's the tradition established by the all-star players of the past from a school that has won 16 Southern Section football championships.

"We want to live up to everybody," Telemaque said. "We love the tradition."

It's no secret why Poly's secondary is good on a yearly basis. Players show up with lots of athletic ability, and the coaches do the rest.

"We're fortunate to get great athletes at that position and they get college coaching," Lara said. "They're sound, technique-wise."

Of course, with so much talent come high expectations, and Poly is probably the only team in the Southland whose fans expect to win every game no matter the opponent.

"It's a lot of fun," Telemaque said. "At the same time, it's a challenge."

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