Two of the Southland's most talented prep football standouts were missing Friday night in the showdown between Long Beach Poly High and Compton Dominguez.
So Poly running back Larry Croom knew it was his time to shine.
Croom, who received extra duty because of the one-game suspension of running back Herman Ho-Ching, carried much of the offensive load, rushing for 231 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Jackrabbits to a 28-13 victory over Dominguez before an estimated 10,000 at Veteran's Stadium.
It was the first meeting between Poly (5-0, ranked No. 3 in the Times' Southern Section football poll) and Dominguez (4-1, ranked No. 2), two schools that are 10 miles apart.
"We've played against a lot of those guys in Pop Warner football when we were little kids," said Croom, who carried the ball a career-high 33 times. "It was like an inner-city showdown. We knew we had to win this game if we were going to go home with our heads up."
Dominguez, playing without quarterback Jason Thomas, who underwent surgery this week to repair a broken leg and ligament damage he suffered in last week's victory at Antelope Valley, had to rely on running back Willie Hurst.
Hurst rushed for 153 yards and one touchdown in 19 attempts, but the Dons received little help from their passing game.
Everett Smith completed eight of 19 passes for 105 yards and one interception.
"We're not the same without Jason [Thomas] in there," Hurst said. "Jason can do so many things well, he makes our offense so dangerous.
"But that's no excuse. [Poly] made the plays and we didn't."
Poly's best play was handing the ball to Croom. The junior, who usually shares rushing attempts with Ho-Ching in a two-back set, was placed in a one-back set most of the night.
Croom never thought he would be so busy.
"I didn't know how I would be feeling after over 30 carries because I've never carried the ball that many times before," said Croom, whose two-yard touchdown gave Poly a 21-13 lead in the third quarter. "I was really hurting in the fourth quarter, but I just sucked it up and blocked out the pain because I knew how important this game was to all of us."