Friday night at Vet’s Stadium, Long Beach’s two oldest high schools showed us something new. The Wilson Bruins proved that their offense can move the ball through the air, and the Poly Jackrabbits…well, they proved the same, in a 34-7 victory. The Bruins are now 4-4 (2-2 in league), and the ‘Rabbits stay undefeated at 7-0 (and 3-0 in league).
Poly didn’t actually throw the ball many more times than usual, they were just much more effective when they did. ‘Rabbits QB Morgan Fennell was 7/12 for 101 yards and two touchdowns on the night, and he finally found a go-to man downfield, as senior Jordan Johnson pulled in four catches for 70 yards, including both of Fennell’s touchdowns. As usual, though, Poly ran it, and ran it well, as Melvin Richardson and Daveon Barner combined for 193 yards, and 12 yards a carry, part of a 262 yard team rushing effort. For a while, the duo was trading off the “leading rusher of the night” title with every carry (Barner finished with 106 to Richardson’s 87). “That’s what we do,” Poly coach Raul Lara said. “We’re a running team. The passing game is coming along, but with our running backs I’ll be happy if we put ten balls in the air.”
For the first moments of the game, Poly struggled to move the ball against a stacked Wilson defensive front, as the Bruins forced a three-and-out on the game’s first drive. But when Wilson got the ball back they didn’t take care of it, and Stephen Barrett’s second pass attempt of the night was picked off by Poly corner Darius Williams-Fox. The pick was bad news for the Bruins—the worse news? When Williams-Fox landed with the ball, he says, “All I could see was daylight.” 78 yards of daylight later, Poly was up 7-0. Williams-Fox played well on defense throughout the night, and had a five-cutback punt return for a touchdown called back because of holding.
After those opening salvos, Poly took over on the ground, on defense, and through the air as kicker David Skara kicked every ball out of the end zone, forcing Wilson to start on their own 20, and more importantly, keeping the ball out of Jemari Roberts’ hands. For the next 9 drives, and 14 minutes of game time, the ball didn’t enter Poly’s half of the field.
Then, down 20-0 halfway through the second quarter, the Bruins found a crack in the Poly Wall, with a dump pass to Ezell Ruffin that went for 59 yards, eventually leading to a 6-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to Cheyne Garcia, an emotional player who gets his team fired up on both sides of the ball. Ruffin had a good night, with four catches for 77 yards, and another 13 yards on the ground. He’s a recent addition to the offense, and Wilson hopes to get him involved more, especially since his downfield ability is going to create more opportunities for Roberts (who had five catches for 67 yards on the night). “We’re slowly bringing him along,” Wilson coach Morales said. “He’s being patient, but I know he wants to do everything.”
Despite the loss, there were still positives for the Bruins—their defense allowed only four touchdowns, which, considering the Jackrabbits played arguably their most complete game of the season, isn’t bad at all. The offense limited their turnovers to two—an improvement over some Wilson performances this year—and in addition to the touchdown drive, had two lengthy drives in the second half. The first was an 11-play drive that took up 4 minutes before stalling at the Poly 23, and the second was a 16-play, 6 minutes-plus drive that went 74 yards down to the Poly 6 before they failed to convert the fourth-and-goal. Both drives were against Poly’s starters, and an on-the-bubble team like Wilson has to be pleased with their ability to move the ball against the Moore League’s stingiest defense, if not as pleased as the Jackrabbits are to have kept them out of the end zone.
Coach Morales wants to see more, of course, saying, “We need to execute better inside the ten yard line.” They’ll need to if they want to beat the Jordan Panthers next week, and Poly will need to keep filling out that well-rounded offense if they want to play to their potential through December. They both have a short week to get their game plans together (everybody plays on Thursday next week), but they’ll adapt. After all, they’ve been at it since the 1920s.