LONG BEACH -- The Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits dodged a pair of bullets Friday night. Actually, they were more like missiles.
Narbonne quarterback Troy Williams' desperate, final-minute heaves fell incomplete and Poly, the No. 2 team in the ESPN Los Angeles Top 25 football rankings, escaped with a 19-16 intersectional victory at Veterans Stadium. The loss could have been disastrous for Poly's psyche heading into next week's highly anticipated meeting with Orange County powerhouse Mission Viejo.
"Obviously, when you're trying to win the game and it seems like the momentum has shifted on the other team's side, you always get a little worried," Poly coach Raul Lara said. "But I've been doing this now 21 years. I don't panic anymore. It's just like, 'Kids, c'mon, we've got to execute.' "
Narbonne nearly pulled off the shocker. With about 45 seconds remaining and facing a third and long, Williams rolled right and launched from midfield. Receiver Greg Clark got behind Randall Goforth, dove for the ball and, for a moment, had possession before it bounced out of his hands. Williams tried again on fourth down but it wasn't nearly as close.
"We could have easily won," Gauchos coach Manual Douglas said. "It would have been nice had it worked."
Poly (3-0) took a 19-14 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Chaiyse Hales to tight end Bradford Carter late in the third quarter. The Jackrabbits purposely took a safety with less than two minutes remaining to make it 19-16.
Poly zoned in on Williams, one of the top junior prospects in the area, and tried to contain him as much as possible. The strategy worked, as Williams threw for 162 yards on 11 of 23 passing to go along with only eight rushing yards. Williams was dropped for a loss nine times, this after torching Palos Verdes for 343 total yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening win for Narbonne (1-1) a week earlier.
"We just had a game plan against him," Poly linebacker Matthew Rowe said.
The Jackrabbits took a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter on a 13-yard touchdown catch from Richard Smith. Josiah Blandin hauled in a 19-yard fade in the corner of the end zone to break a scoreless tie late in the first quarter. Smith finished with seven catches for 89 yards; Blandin had five for 78. Manusamoa Luuga ran for 91 yards on 17 carries for Poly. Hales threw for 200 yards and three scores but he was picked off twice. The interceptions were backbreaking and allowed the Gauchos to creep back into it.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Narbonne jumped ahead, 14-13, on a one-yard lunge from Williams in the third quarter. Tray Boone put the Gauchos on the board on their first offensive play of the second half, a 74-yard scamper down the sideline. Narbonne started three drives in Poly territory late in the game but its no-huddle spread had difficulty matching Poly's scheme.
The Jackrabbits showed off their armor when it mattered most.
"Give Narbonne all the credit in the world," Lara said. "They played fantastic. They made us work, they made us make some adjustments. We had to game plan at the end and we're thankful that it worked out."