CARSON The last time Long Beach Poly football coach Raul Lara was on the Home Depot Center field, he left with clenched fists, mixed emotions and moist eyes.
In 2008, Long Beach Poly, ranked No. 2 nationally at the time, lost to Grant 25-20 in the first CIF State Bowl Open Division game. Lara, like many coaches, tends to agonize over losses more than appreciate victories.
"That's true, and I still carry that Grant loss with me," Lara said. "You can't forget."
And that's something Lara has reminded his Jackrabbits this week as they've prepared to play Granite Bay in tonight's State Bowl Division I game. Both teams are going for their first state bowl win, and both have 11-game winning streaks after 1-3 starts.
"I mention Grant 2008 to our guys," Lara said. "In 2008, our guys were hoping to play De La Salle, and it didn't happen. We got a great Grant team instead, and our kids asked, 'Who the heck is that?' and they beat us. This week, the guys are wondering about Granite Bay 'Who are they?' Well, it's a great team. We can't stay on cloud nine. We have to be sharp and fired up, or we'll get beat again."
Lara said it's usually opponents who get fired up to play Long Beach Poly because it has one of the nation's most recognized and storied programs. In its 96 seasons playing football, Poly has won 721 games, second in state history. Granite Bay has been around only since 1996.
"We're new to all this and just trying to keep up with the Joneses," Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper said. "We're all excited the players, the coaches, the whole community. I'm sure it's the same for them, too.
"Poly is just like us in that their season mirrors ours to a T."
But that image, Cooper said, changes after peeking at the players.
"Oh, man, they're the real deal," Cooper said. "They've got a really good, athletic, big line, and that's a scary proposition. We're not going to intimidate anyone when we come running out of the tunnel. No one is going to say, 'Oh, wow. Look at those guys.' "
Plenty of folks will notice, however, if the Grizzlies continue to pound opponents with their running game and on defense. The offensive line has been the key to Granite Bay's successful fly sweep offense that features halfbacks John Cooley (1,556 yards, 17 touchdowns) and Taft Partridge (789 and nine), fly back Tony Ellison (1,144 and 11) and quarterback Grant Caraway (1,762 passing yards, 27 touchdowns).
"Poly will see us run the ball, and that's our strength here we go," Cooper said. "We can't change who we are. But we can also pass it if we need to. For us the last two games, we've run the ball a lot, and the thinking was, 'Keep on milking it.' "
If Granite Bay wins, it will give the Sacramento region a 3-2 record in state bowl games. After Grant in 2008, Folsom won the Division II title in 2010. Rocklin (2009) and Del Oro (2011) lost in Division II games.
Football was just one of the many things recognized during a rally Wednesday at Granite Bay, and Cooper reminds his athletes that football is just a part of the extracurricular experience.
"I am so happy for the other teams at our school and what they've done," Cooper said. "I tell my players, 'Don't go walking around campus thinking you're extra special.' That's not true here, not with the speech/debate team, the band, other teams. We're part of something special at this school, but we're not the special ones."