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Armageddon For a Day: How Lakewood Lancer Football Ended the 15-Year Dominance of Poly High

Posted on October 10, 2009 by Jo-Ryan Salazar
The Lakewood Lancerscelebrate after ending the 15-year conference winning streak for Poly High.

The Lakewood Lancerscelebrate after ending the 15-year conference winning streak for Poly High. (Long Beach Press Telegram Photo)

I had this all planned out. I knew what I was going to do if it were one outcome, and if it were the other.

People who do this for a living call it contingency. As a graduate student closing in on a couple of degrees that I hope will make my employment situation secure like those safes from Dunbar Armored, I knew the the ins and outs of a strong, fail-proof contingency plan.

And my contingency plan went into effect the moment I stepped out of my house at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Friday, October 9, 2009.

I was not even born when my alma mater, Lakewood High School, last defeated the flagship school of the Harry J. Moore League, Long Beach Polytechnic High. But I knew about the heritage, their reputation as the “Home of Scholars and Champions” (or “Den of Gangsters and Criminals,” depending on your side of 1600 Atlantic Avenue) in other sports and disciplines on and off the field, and I knew that this was originally destined to be my school of choice.

My older sister, who works as a registered nurse at nearby St. Mary’s Medical Center, was a graduate of Poly. I could have followed in her footsteps. But a series of events that I decline to expand on built a detour to Briercrest Street.

In my senior year, the Lancers were a dismal 1-8. We couldn’t face Bloomington due to the September 11th bombings. This year’s team, coached by former Los Alamitos assistant Thaddeus MacNeal, would demolish the patchwork group of gridders that played at John T. Ford Stadium. I kid you not.

But I want to go back to Poly for a moment. Before the game-televised by Fox Sports West-began, the Jackrabbits were riding an 80-game winning streak. The last team to beat Poly? A school up the road known as David Starr Jordan High. In that 28-0 win over the Green and Gold, a certain quarterback by the name of Ortege Jenkins helped the Panthers torch the Jackrabbits in a shutout.

Since then, Poly-under then-head coach Jerry Jaso and now former assistant Raul Lara-had been reloading their guns, and began their streak. They were churning league titles, section titles, and even took part in a bowl game.

Of course, they were the goat among the SoCal squads in their ambush by Mike Alberghini’s Sacramento Grant Pacers, but that’s a different story.

This season was unusual for Poly. They had lost the bulk of their team to graduation, and-in a rare instance-lacked the firepower to reload. Worse still, sophomore quarterback Dylan Legarde was inconsistent during the non-league campaign (also referred by the misnomer “preseason schedule”) and hightailed to John Barnes’ Los Al Griffins.

Senior QB Chris Leachman was effective in their 31-0 rout of Jordan the week before, and would have made things interesting if he was the starter to begin with. And the Jackrabbits did have some playmakers in Cory Westbrook, Earnest Pettway, Michael Teo and Kaelin Clay, among others.

Lakewood, on the other hand, had a team that needed to get a result to make an impact against some of the strongest teams in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division. And I am talking about the liked of Huntington Beach Edison, Anaheim Servite (who the Lancers defeated in the playoff last year, and the Jackrabbits got blown apart by this year), Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Mission Viejo (who the Lancers also defeated last year)…those teams.

Lakewood players celebrate after recovering a fumble in their victory over Poly. (Long Beach Press-Telegram Photo)

Lakewood players celebrate after recovering a fumble in their victory over Poly. (Long Beach Press-Telegram Photo)

Jesse Scroggins, who signed with the USC Trojans, needed this game as a chance to show that he could be a worthy understudy to current starter Matt Barkley. In the spread offense package, Scroggins had some options: Rashad Wadood (who I nickname “The Dude”), Terrence Woods, Alley Long, Darius Powe, Ron Lewis, Kevin Anderson, Kevin Medearis and Chris Davis, among others. That’s a lot of “is”es, by the way.

Defensively, Lakewood was led by cornerback Dion Bailey, linebackers Justin Utupo and Keanu Kalolo, and defensive linemen Todd Barr and Kelly Harpham.

I wondered why Long Beach City College (whose team would be massacred by the Lancers) did not draw this many people at their games: 11,000 were on hand to see Vets Stadium turn into Armageddon for one night.

Before I went into the pit of fire, I stumbled upon a tailgate for the parents. Now this was a feast worthy of appraisal by His Majesty King Arthur Pendragon: sub sandwiches, pizza, steak and chicken asada with salsa and corn tortillas, Spanish rice, potato salad, macaroni salad, potato wedges, fried chicken, and cans of Coors Light and Coca-Cola.

Mmmmm, now THAT’S good eating. And the parents of those players donning red and white that night needed all the fuel they could get. I stuffed myself with only what my belly could carry. Before I arrived I had imbibed some coffe and Rockstar Juiced Pomegranate to ensure that my vocal cords were into “all hands on deck” mode. It was going to be historic, so long as the road team ensured it.

The game kicked off with Poly getting the ball first. Oh, and this was the school’s Homecoming Game. Swell timing, isn’t it? Michael Simmons of the Jackrabbits fumbled on their first play, and the Lancers took over.

So, logic would say that this would be automatic, given the talent of the Lakewood varsity, right? I knew at the back of my mind that historically, penalties and turnovers have ruined any chance we had against Poly. And this is aside from Poly delivering on their own patch. The Lancers self-destructed at the hands of a false-start festival.

I’ve been referring to football officials with black and white stripes as “striped maggots” for any call against my team, and “homers” if I perceive them to be calling less on the home team. These catcalls were incorporated upon inspiration from Australian Rules football fans when referring to the match officials at the ovals down under.

One old grad had consternation about the epithets laid towards them. Unfortunately, he has to get used to it because my partisanship is strong, broad and deep.

After Poly botched their next series, Long went long. A 50-yard score gave the Lancers first blood. Now, the interesting thing about this was that they had lost a key player in Jerry Stone. But he was let go by the team and the school for choosing the wrong priorities.

It’s amazing how a close one-point defeat to the Crenshaw Cougars could have been a still-undefeated record had Stone not been on Acacia Avenue in Compton. Nonetheless, Lakewood was able to manage.

As for the Jackrabbits, they responded with authority. Marching down the field with precision passing, Leachman scored on a 1-yard carry to tie the score. At the end of one quarter, it was 7-7.

The second quarter was a nightmare defensively for the Lancers. They had a chance to stop Leachman late in the stanza. They failed.

While I found it to be disgraceful on our side on defense, I’ll give Poly this: their efficiency in converting 3rd and 4th downs on offense is going to look good for them when the business end of the season arrived like Santa and his reindeer in December. So with two quarters at hand, it was 14-7 Jackrabbits.

I recalled when Tesoro High-hailing from little old Rancho Santa Margarita-ville-faced us, we were leading, but we let the opponents back into it. So I wondered, can we do the same thing?

The answer: YES. But we had to earn it.

In Lakewood’s first drive of the third quarter, Scroggins was efficient. On fourth-and-9 at the Poly 9-yard line, he found Anderson. Kicker Brad Braswell, meanwhile, botched the extra point.

Now, some people at LBPOST.com had been criticizing my bashing of Braswell the week before against the Compton Tarbabes (which the Lancers won 61-0). But Braswell did not convert all his kicks. I reminded everyone about the benefits of clutch kicking. Honesty may be something you can’t stand, but you’ll have to take its word for it, whether you like it or not.

But with 9:06 remaining in the game, Scroggins showed everyone why he is going to SC. A 3-yard touchdown run by Woods capped off a sensational drive. Jesse was courageous enough to spare Brad the blushes with the 2-point conversion.

Now it was up to the defense. Utupo and company were relentless in stopping plays left and right. However, with about six minutes to go, I was roaring in disapproval of a questionable backwards pass by Scroggins to Long. That brought new life into the Poly sails. Now, granted, the defense woke up and adjusted.

The fans in red and white were sensing it.

Lakewood tried to take a knee, but they could not convert a fourth-and-two on their last series. So there was a couple of Hail Mary tries for Leachman. With eight seconds between them.

With one second to go, Leachman threw the ball as he could throw it. He might as well be hurling it into a land mine. The Lancers fans, alums, and students stormed the field. Some of them were still on the field after the lights went out.

I had just about everything (save some blue shorts) off when the final gun sounded. And when I got to the field, I just collapsed in relief, staring at the sky, laughing like Vegeta of Dragon Ball.

As the streak ended, my head started to hurt a little. So I went to the nearby Jack in the Box to drink some tea, lemonade, and Diet Coke. I needed some re-hydration to clear my head. It worked.

Later that night, I had a plush bunny ready to go. I marked the number “80″ on it, and the dates “1994-2009″, laid it on the asphalt, and incinerated it. This was a sign to show that the league winning streak of Poly had ended.

I prefer Zippo lighters to Bic lighters, but I had to make do.

All good things must come to an end. And Long Beach Poly must learn to lose, even when they feel it is their right to win titles in any sports they could field a team in.

My hope is that this will be a habit, not just for Lakewood, but for the other teams in the Moore League. I believe that with our victory, we ensured that the talk of “competitive anomaly” regarding the Jackrabbits was tabled for at least another year, and the possibility of parity was starting to show that night.

After all the people had left, Veterans Stadium was no longer Armageddon. It was just plain old Veterans Stadium.

But history was made in a game many people will talk about in the cities of Long Beach and Lakewood. The final score: Lakewood Lancers 21, Poly Jackrabbits 14.

This was a special submission to Sports Then and Now by Jo-Ryan Salazar. If you have stories of local interest in your community that you would like to share nationally on Sports Then and Now, please contact dean@sportsthenandnow.com.


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