Luuga charges Poly to 19th CIF title

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Gerard Wicks and Manu Luuga sat next to each other on the Long Beach Poly bench midway through the fourth quarter of their PAC-5 final against Mater Dei. Wicks had a smile. Luuga, the look of a man who was just trying to take in the moment.

A Poly staffer walked behind and put his arms around the both of them.

“Two-headed monster,” the man proclaimed.

No truer words spoken on this Saturday night.

Mater Dei received a heavy dose of Raul Lara’s running backs on this night. The Jackrabbits (11-3) grounded, pounded, and churned out rushing yards on their way to a 35-17 win over Mater Dei (11-3) in the CIF-SS PAC-5 final.

In a surprise, Poly lined up in the Wildcat for what Lara says was the first time this season. They did it almost exclusively in the first half.

Both Luuga and Wicks took the snaps and went straight ahead through the Monarchs defense. The decision to go to the Wildcat for the first time this season was very much calculated.

“In 2010 when Mater Dei beat us in the first round, they really loaded up the box and we didn’t account for one blocker,” Lara said. “We decided let’s put another blocker out there and let’s make our quarterback the running back.

“It worked out for us,” Lara said.

Luuga and Wicks combined for 140 yards on the ground in the first half, primarily out of the Wildcat.

Luuga was the player of the game finishing with 132 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns.

Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson said the Wildcat wasn’t anything that caught his team off guard, per se. He knew there would be a new wrinkle on Poly’s part but defensively, the Monarchs couldn’t adjust quick enough.

“I commend them,” Rollinson said. “That was a heck of a scheme.”

When Lara assumed the playcalling duties after the Jackrabbits started the season 1-3, he knew for sure he wanted to put more of an emphasis in the running game.

That meant more carries for Luuga and Wicks. The two haven’t disappointed, carrying the Jackrabbits to their 19th CIF title in school history.

“We’re like the two-headed monster,” Luuga said of he and Wicks. “We feed off each other. I told (Wicks) me and you are going to have to run the team back to the top. If we’re going to do it, our run game has to be on point.

“We just did it.”

Defensively, the speed of Long Beach Poly appeared to be too much for the Monarchs to contend with. Any running lane that appeared to be there closed quickly.

The Jackrabbits were able to sack Mater Dei quarterback Chase Forrest five times.

He was picked off once and a sack fumble by Mathew Mitai was scooped and scored by Jayon Brown in the third quarter to put the Jackrabbits up 28-10 as it began to rain at Angel Stadium and on the Monarchs title hopes.  

“Our defense played awesome today,” Lara said.

Added Rollinson: “Normally it doesn’t rain on me. That wasn’t good.”

This has been the formula for Lara. Running and defense. It was the formula in 2007 and 2008 when they won back-to-back PAC-5 championships. It was the formula on Saturday night.

Poly jumped out to a 14-0 lead when Luuga scored on a 71-yard touchdown run with just under five minutes to play in the first quarter.

Nik Little caught a 22-yard touchdown pass for Mater Dei with under 30 seconds remaining in the first half to get the Monarchs within 11 points, 21-10. They wouldn’t get any closer.

In a game built up for being the first time these two teams met in a sectional final since their epic battles in the late 90s, the last being in 1999, there was a small glimmer of the past with a memory of that game.

In that 1999 game, 21-10 was the halftime score as it was on Saturday. Mater Dei found the magic to come back and force a tie 13 years ago. On Saturday, Poly was the clear cut winner.

“Tonight was their night,” Rollinson said.

In particular, Luuga’s night.