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Two Is Better Than One No. 2 De La Salle beat No. 1 Long Beach Poly to extend its 10-year winning streak

It's tough to portray a team with a 116-game winning streak as
an underdog, but that was the curious position the football team
from De La Salle High of Concord, Calif., found itself in before
its 29-15 victory over Long Beach (Calif.) Poly last Saturday
night. The game marked the first meeting of No. 1 and No. 2 in
the 19-year history of USA Today's Super 25 rankings, and the
Spartans were peeved about going into any game relegated to
second. After all, De La Salle had gone undefeated throughout
the Clinton presidency, and the last time it had lost--Dec. 4,
1991--Tiger Woods was too young to hold a driver's license, and
rap's most popular white guy was Vanilla Ice, not Eminem.

However, the Spartans had only three starters back on a defense
that had held opponents to 40 points a year ago, and they were
inexperienced at the skill positions. On paper they were no
match for the Poly juggernaut. The Jackrabbits had sent more
players to the NFL (39) than any other high school in the
country, and since the start of the 1997 season they'd gone
57-1-1. This year's squad is widely regarded as the most
talented in school history, with six players listed in
SuperPrep's top 100.

So how to account for Poly's humbling at the hands of the
supposedly overmatched Spartans? "They underestimated us, big
time," said De La Salle junior running back Maurice Drew, the
star of the game with 165 total yards and four touchdowns. "I
read the quotes in the paper, and it was like they had all these
star players and we didn't have anybody." In truth, the Spartans
did not need this kind of external motivation. "The kids have
been preparing for this game since January," says Bob Ladouceur,
who, in his 23rd season as the De La Salle coach, has a 253-14-1

As both squads steamrollered toward their date with destiny, the
hype reached a fever pitch. One hundred twenty-one media
credentials were issued for the game to organizations as diverse
as ABC World News Tonight and NFL Films. A live telecast was
available nationwide on DirecTV, and attendance at Veterans
Stadium in Long Beach swelled to 17,321. Scalpers were charging
up to $50 for $10 tickets.

Poly, with an enrollment of 4,600, is located on the mean streets
of west LBC, immortalized in the gritty rhymes of native son
Snoop Dogg. De La Salle, an all-boys Catholic school with an
enrollment of 1,050 and a tuition of $7,800, is situated in an
upper-middle-class Bay Area suburb. Thus the game became
shorthand for public versus private, city versus suburb,
improvisational athleticism versus a rigid system.

Once the game began, though, easy stereotypes fell away. Poly
played with discipline and cohesion, committing no turnovers and
only three penalties. De La Salle displayed game-breaking speed
and enough exuberance to earn a flag for excessive celebrating
after Drew caught a screen pass, dashed 25 yards and somersaulted
into the end zone on the first possession of the game. The
Spartans extended their first-quarter lead to 14-3 on a rainbow
that Drew hauled in at a pylon--only one in a series of perfect
passes thrown by 6'4" senior quarterback Matt Gutierrez, who's
being recruited by Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame, among other
colleges. The Jackrabbits nibbled away at the deficit, closing to
21-15 when their UCLA-bound tight end, 6'7" Marcedes Lewis,
caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left in the first

The Poly offensive line averages a meaty 6'3" and 267
pounds--about 35 pounds per man more than the De La Salle
defensive front four. The Spartans dress only 49 players, and
five start both ways, including 6'4", 288-pound lineman Derek
Landri, who's bound for Notre Dame. To combat their mounting
fatigue the Spartans went to their bench, and the story of the
second half was the defensive effort of De La Salle's scrubs.
Twice in the third quarter the Spartans stopped Poly on downs,
and they kept the Jackrabbits' breakaway threat, senior tailback
Hershel Dennis, out of the end zone even as he rushed for 161
yards. De La Salle's Drew iced the game with a 22-yard touchdown
gallop with 6:57 to go.

"It was an honor to share the field with them," said Jackrabbits
coach Raul Lara. "They embody discipline, teamwork and rock-solid

All of the above can be traced to Ladouceur, a former probation
officer who teaches religion at De La Salle. The Spartans begin
and end every practice with a prayer. After last Saturday's
victory they no longer need to beseech the pollsters. De La Salle
is No. 1 again, just where it belongs.

COLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA "They underestimated us, big time," said Drew (above), the star of the game with four scores.