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Pacers rally to beat Jackrabbits for the state open division title

After four exhilarating playoff victories, Long Beach Poly High experienced the heartache of being on the other side of a late comeback.

The Jackrabbits fell to Sacramento Grant, 25-20, Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in the inaugural CIF state football championship open division bowl game after the Pacers scored in the final two minutes to end Poly’s winning streak at 26 games.

Quarterback Kipeli Koniseti connected with receiver Darvin McCauley for a 15-yard touchdown with 1 minute 11 seconds remaining to give the Pacers (14-0) a victory in their first bowl appearance.

Only minutes earlier it looked as if running back Melvin Richardson might have given the Jackrabbits (14-1) the big play they needed for a second consecutive week when he rambled 55 yards for a touchdown that gave Poly a 20-19 lead early in the fourth quarter.

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Richardson’s 60-yard, fourth-quarter run had helped the Jackrabbits pull out a victory over Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro the previous week in the Pac-5 Division title game.

Poly, which had used fourth-quarter scores to win its first four playoff games, stopped Grant on downs on its ensuing possession when lineman Juwuan Brown held Koniseti to a two-yard gain on fourth and five.

But the Pacers got the ball back with 4:20 left and quickly drove for the go-ahead score that allowed them to become the first Poly opponent to score more than 23 points since Anaheim Servite defeated the Jackrabbits, 28-20, in the 2005 playoffs.

Poly drove to midfield on its final drive before quarterback Morgan Fennell’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 36 seconds to go, allowing Grant to run out the clock.

“Toward the end of the game, I thought we got tired,” Poly Coach Raul Lara said. “We’ve gotten by on long drives that have kept our defense rested, but tonight we couldn’t sustain our drives so we got tired. I don’t know what the time of possession was, but I’m willing to bet they had a lot more plays than we did.”

Grant had taken a 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter after running back Devontae Butler ran for a five-yard touchdown on fourth down, raising one arm in triumph before he had reached the end zone. Butler’s score broke a string of 26 consecutive games in which Poly had held its opponent to 17 points or less.

Linebacker George Daily-Lyles had given Poly a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter when he scooped up a blocked punt and sprinted six yards for a touchdown.

The Pacers rushed for more than 4,100 yards this season and Poly began the game with two 1,000-yard rushers, but the teams gained 244 of their 316 yards in the first half through the air. Grant held Richardson to 70 yards in 11 carries overall.

Grant started four first-half drives in Poly territory and took a 13-0 lead thanks to Koniseti, who threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He completed a 54-yard touchdown pass to McCauley in the first quarter and then plunged into the end zone early in the second.

The grumbling about the North-versus-South format that couldn’t match Poly against fellow Southern California power Corona Centennial only intensified when Southern California teams won the first four bowl games.

But Grant proved to be every bit as formidable as Poly, which had won 18 Southern Section titles but had never appeared in a state bowl game before Saturday.

“They’ve got athletes just like us,” Lara said. “The thing that surprised me most about them was their size. They were big kids.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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State bowl games

at Home Depot Center

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Division III

St. Bonaventure...28

Cardinal Newman...6

Division II

San Diego Cathedral...37

Stockton St. Mary’s...34

Open Division

Sacramento Grant...25

Long Beach Poly...20


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