Gardena Serra defense comes through in 21-17 win over Long Beach Poly

Gardena Serra's Cincere Rhaney gives a stiff-arm to Long Beach Poly's Donovan Turner.
(Nick Koza)

Gardena Serra’s defense came through repeatedly Saturday night to lead the Cavaliers to a 21-17 victory over rival Long Beach Poly in the CIF Division 1-A Southern California Regional final, sending the team into next Saturday’s 1-A state final against Bakersfield Liberty at Saddleback College.

An interception in the end zone by Tre’ Harrison with 1:08 left sealed the victory. There also was an interception at the two-yard line by Dakoda Fields earlier in the game. And defensive end D’Angelo Davis, a junior who should be Serra’s next top defensive recruit, kept putting the pressure on Poly quarterback Shea Kuykendall, who was 17 of 41 passing for 137 yards.

“Unbelievable,” coach Scott Altenberg said dripping wet from ice water thrown on his head. “They’re real good defensively and we’re really good defensively. It’s the defense that got us here.”

Poly appeared in position to win when Titus Bordeaux caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with 3:25 left to put the Jackrabbits on top 17-14.


But Maalik Murphy found running back Troy Crozier wide open to complete a 75-yard touchdown pass with 3:05 left to retake the lead. Serra used its running backs as receivers, creating opportunities for Murphy, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Cincere Rhaney rushed for 112 yards.

There were so many people trying to get into Serra’s stadium that the gates were locked because the 6,000 capacity had been reached. Football alumni from both teams were rooting on the sideline.

The first half ended in a 7-7 tie. Matthew Coleman caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Murphy for a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. Poly came back to tie the score on a 13-yard touchdown reception by Jason Robinson.

Both schools wasted scoring opportunities after driving to the five-yard line. Serra missed on a 23-yard field-goal attempt and Poly had an incompletion at the goal line on fourth down as time expired to end the half.