Poly’s defense returns to form

The Long Beach Poly defense hopped onto a leaf and turned
it over.

 

Over the last nine games, they’ve looked like a defense
befitting of Poly. Run through, around, trampled on and left for dead, Raul
Lara’s Jackrabbits have completely turned things around.

 

After allowing 36.8 points per game during their 1-3
start to the season, the Jackrabbits are allowing under 10 points per game
during their current nine-game winning streak as they enter Saturday’s PAC-5
final against Mater Dei.

 

“(This defense has come) a long way,” Lara
said. “Fifty-six to zero. Everybody ridiculing us and we just stopped two high powered
offenses the last two weeks.”

 

The 56-0 defeat at the hands of Narbonne seemed like the
end of days for one of the most iconic programs in the nation.

 

“We let the Narbonne game get away from us,”
Lara said. “It should have never been 56-0 but I think that was a good
turning point for us.”

 

It was the worst loss in nearly a century for Poly. The
next week, in their home opener, they lost to Bakersfield, 29-6.

 

People were starting to wonder what was going on at 1600
Atlantic Ave.

 

Somehow, they had to get back to the basics, literally.
As they prepared to enter Moore League play, they started from scratch going
through fundamentals.

 

Out of that came a transformation unlike anything the
Pac-5 has seen. Lara took over the play calling duties offensively.

 

On the defensive side, he credits the move of wide
receiver John “Ju-Ju” Smith to free safety as a “big move”
for the defense.

 

Smith has been a playmaker in what has become a dynamic
secondary for the Jackrabbits along with David Price, Iman Marshall, and
Matthew Mitai.

 

Last Friday, Smith punched Poly’s ticket to the Pac-5
finals with an interception late in the fourth quarter against St. John Bosco.

 

Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson knows the chore
ahead trying to deal with a fast Poly defense, especially the secondary.

 

“They’re going to lock down,” said Rollinson
with a chuckle.

 

People weren’t saying those types of things two months
ago.

 

“They grew up,” Lara said of his team.

 

Added Smith: “It’s been a wonderful journey. Nobody
believed in us and now we’re going to the championship.”

 

In what he’s called a “roller coaster” of a
season, Lara doesn’t want this magic ride to end.

 

“I love these guys. I don’t want to stop,” Lara
said. “I want it to go forever because these guys don’t quit. They’re
amazing.”