Last week on "4th and Forever," the Jackrabbits lost to Mission Viejo. Strong practices during the week made them confident they had a shot at breaking a history of getting beat by the Diablos on the field, but when game time came, their best efforts weren't nearly enough. The Jackrabbits are now 2-2 and head coach Raul Lara knows he'll have to shake things up again to figure out why the team isn't performing consistently.
Some of the players feel it can't all be their fault. At Dabness and Jacob Irving's home, a few Jackrabbits and close friends pick apart what went wrong. They agree that part of the reason for their struggles was quarterback Emmanuel Lara, who botched three different scoring attempts.
Coach Lara removed starting quarterback Chaiyse Hales from the field after one bad play and then let his son Emmanuel finish the game. To the other players, this was a poor call that contributed to their loss.
Regardless of who takes the blame, the point is that Poly needs to start winning. Dabness knows college recruiters don't bother scouting losers. If any of them want to maintain their chances at getting football scholarships, then Poly must win again.
The team's struggles couldn't have come at a worse time for Jeremiah Hollowell. Off the field, he's recently received a tragic phone call: his godbrother and friend, Gary, has been shot and killed.
"It wasn't even anything bad," Jeremiah says. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The news makes the following days difficult. His mother, Margaret, asks him how he's holding up, and Jeremiah confesses that he hasn't cried so much since his grandmother passed.
Jeremiah's determined not to let his emotions spiral out of control, though. Gary had always been invested in Jeremiah playing well, and he's hoping to channel his frustrations into motivating his team.
His mom and uncle both agree. Now isn't the time for Jeremiah to set his goals aside. Poly needs everyone striving to achieve better, and if Jeremiah's serious about being a positive voice for his team, he should pursue that.
At practice, Coach Lara's ready to get the team focused in as well.
"I still believe we have a very good football team," he says. The next school Poly's scheduled to face is Jordan. If they build a strong offensive strategy, then they can dominate on the field.
All the coaches mean business. The players have to prove they're prepared for anyone who comes at them, so they run each of the Jackrabbits ragged during practice. Lara and the other coaches can't risk Poly players going out on the field on game day and getting intimidated again.
Starting quarterback Chaiyse Hales is still wondering why Coach Lara pulled him out of the Mission Viejo game so early. Lara believes Chaiyse's head wasn't in the game, but he hasn't yet said as much to Chaiyse.
"Did I really do that bad?" Chaiyse asks his mother on the way home after school.
Patrice doesn't believe it was about Chaiyse. Not really. She tells him that she doesn't want him to feel bad about being called out when it's also clear that Emmanuel, the other quarterback, hasn't been performing perfectly either.
To Patrice, it all seemed like blatant nepotism. It wasn't a fair call.
Back in school, Dabness Atkins takes a time out with running back coach Don Norford. Dabness was the team captain, but now he's only playing as a defensive back. Part of the reason for the switch is his attitude and the unevenness of his playing so far this season.
Norford asks Dabness why he thinks he's struggling. Dabness says he's "trying so hard to make a play that it messes [him] up." Norford feels Dabness is over-thinking things and letting that get the best of him. Focus is good, but over-thinking strategy can create doubt. Dabness needs to lighten up a little, but it's difficult for Dabness not to stress when he's got so much riding on these games. He wants to get into a good school.
Norford reassures Dabness that he believes in him. He knows Dabness will go on to do great things, so it's OK to let himself just enjoy playing too.
Coach Lara also starts paying Chaiyse more attention in practice. Chaiyse is determined to prove that he's the right man to continue playing as starting quarterback, and both come out of remaining practices before the Jordan match-up feeling confident.
At home, Jeremiah continues to struggle coping with Gary's death. He takes his girlfriend and son to visit the grave of another friend, Jeremy. Jeremy was someone Jeremiah looked up to, and Gary's passing has unearthed new feelings. The murder of his friend has made him reflect on all the violence he's already seen in his 17 years, and now he just wants to make sure he gets to stick around for his son.
He takes the time to talk through what's been on his mind while out with teammates later. As they eat at Poly Burgers, Jeremiah, Corey Waller and Bijon Franklin exchange stories about the different tragedies they've heard about and seen in Long Beach. They're lucky enough to have good friends and positive role models through football, but playing sports doesn't completely disconnect them from the dangers people can face in Long Beach.
Jeremiah was even involved with gangs at one point. The birth of his son motivated him to make better choices, including taking sports more seriously. Playing football doesn't eliminate the threat of the streets, but it could be a way to eventually move on to better homes and safer lifestyles.
Game 5 takes place at Jordan High Memorial Stadium. The Jordan Panthers may have home-field advantage, but the Jackrabbits are still determined to bounce back from their Mission Viejo loss. They're playing to win. To keep the playoffs in the picture, Poly needs to win all six games remaining in the season.
Luckily, Chaiyse is back on his game this week. He throws three perfect passes early in the game, resulting in an early touchdown.
Keltain Malveaux quickly turns one touchdown into two, and things keep looking up from there. The defense even scores its first touchdown of the season.
The Jackrabbits have completely turned it around this week, winning against the Jordan Panthers, 41-8.
Next week, Poly takes on its archrival Lakewood. Can the Jackrabbits earn another victory and increase their chances of making it to the playoffs?
Tune in Thursday at 9/8c for an all-new episode of "4th and Forever." For more information, visit http://current.com/4thandForever/