Long Beach Poly defeats Mission Viejo in a nail-biter
In the “other” big game Friday night, big plays made the difference for Long Beach Poly in a 35-30 come-from-behind victory over host Mission Viejo. The Jackrabbits got redemption after being limited to 161 total yards in a 41-14 loss on their home field at the hands of the Diablos last year.
Devin Samples scored the winning touchdown on an eight-yard run with 21 seconds left. Mission Viejo moved from its own 20 to the Poly 49 before time ran out.
“Coach trusts me,” said Samples, who rushed 23 times for 86 yards. “Put the ball in my hands and I’ll do it. It was the same basic run play we use — Iowa Code. I had to read the blocks, but when I saw that cutback lane I knew I had it.”
Michael Selgado kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Diablos a two-point lead with 6:39 left and a blocked punt by Joseph Mendez gave Mission Viejo the ball at the Poly 14.
However, the Jackrabbits’ defense stiffened and Selgado missed a 36-yard attempt, giving Poly (3-0) one last chance.
Darius Curry found Jadyn Robinson crossing the goal line for a 16-yard score that gave Poly a 28-27 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The resilient Jackrabbits, No. 8 in The Times’ Top 25 rankings, improved to 2-6 all-time versus Mission Viejo, their other win a 21-16 quarterfinal upset on the way to the Pac-5 championship in 2012, the last of their five Southern Section titles under Coach Raul Lara.
The first big play was a 56-yard punt by Selgado that pinned Poly on its own five-yard line. When the Diablos (2-1), ranked fourth in the Southland by The Times, got the ball back they drove 91 yards in 12 plays, scoring the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard plunge by Mendez on the second play of the second quarter.
Poly answered with an eight-play, 63-yard march capped by Curry’s 12-yard draw. After defensive end Domonic Lolesio tipped a Kadin Semonza screen pass at the line of scrimmage, tackle Phoenix Tusa caught it out of the air and ran 12 yards into the end zone to give the Jackrabbits a 14-7 lead.
Mikey Matthews gathered in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Semonza to pull the Diablos even at 14-14, then Travis Anderson returned an interception 40 yards to set up a four-yard touchdown run by Chase Valousky to put Mission Viejo back on top.
Selgado tacked on a 31-yard field goal to increase the margin to 24-14 with five seconds left in the first half.
“We weren’t worried at all,” Samples said. “We just had to execute the little things.”
Anderson picked off his second pass along the sideline at the Diablos’ 15, but on the following drive Mission Viejo had to punt. Poly crept to within 24-21 on Curry’s 11-yard strike to Jason Robinson midway through the third quarter. However, Mission Viejo answered right back with a 34-yard field goal by Selgado on its ensuing possession.
If not for the epic showdown between No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei and No. 3 Corona Centennial taking place 35 miles away, which was won handily by the Monarchs, it would have been the most hyped matchup of the week — and rightfully so. After all, the schools have combined for 27 Southern Section titles compared to a total of 22 for Mater Dei and Centennial.
“This feels good,” Samples said. “We got blown out by them last year, but this is a new team.”
Elijah Brown passes three times to Marcus Brown for touchdowns in Mater Dei’s 43-20 victory
The eighth meeting between two of the winningest public school programs in Southern Section annals proved as thrilling as the first in 2003 when future USC and NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez passed the host Diablos to a 28-27 victory.
Not only did Poly avenge a stinging loss last fall, it recorded its 801st victory.
According to Cal-Hi Sports record books, the Jackrabbits became only the second team in state history to reach that plateau with a victory over No. 24 Gardena Serra last week. Bakersfield reached 800 last season and entered the night with 803 victories.
Poly, which opened in 1895 and fielded its first football team in 1908, has a proud history. It has won 20 Southern Section titles and the first state title in 1919. The Jackrabbits won a state-record 82 consecutive league games from 1994-09. Since it opened in 1966, Mission Viejo has captured seven section titles and won the 2015 state Division 1-AA bowl game. The Diablos’ 41-game winning streak from 2001-03 is the second-longest in Orange County history.
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