It’s now a waiting game for South Pasadena High to determine if the Tigers qualify for a spot in the CIF-Southern Section Division 13 playoffs after they disposed of La Cañada 40-10 after a slow start Friday night in a key Rio Hondo League matchup.
Before the win on a festive homecoming night, school officials applied for an at-large berth based on South Pasadena’s overall 7-3 regular season record and strong two-game winning streak down the stretch.
Earning automatic playoff spots are league champion Monrovia and runner-up San Marino while South Pasadena winds up in third ahead of La Cañada and Temple City in the five-team race. Blair did not take part in the sport for the second straight year.
“Nothing is for certain at this point that we’re in (the playoffs),” said South Pasadena High coach Jeff Chi. “I hope we’re in. These guys worked really hard. We had one bad game the whole year against San Marino [a 10-7 loss] but every other game, win or lose, we played tough, very competitively, and I feel we deserve to be in the CIF playoffs. Hopefully, we’re in and can win it.”
The Wildcats were crowned league champs, recording a 4-0 mark (9-1 overall), followed by San Marino (3-1, 4-6), South Pasadena (2-2, 7-3), La Canada (1-3, 5-5) and Temple City (0-4, 2-5).
Tigers coach Jeff Chi likes the idea that his club could be moving on, in line to likely go on the road to play a first-round playoff game. Pairings will be announced by CIF on Sunday.
All Chi, his fellow coaches and players want is to get invited to the postseason party, with first round CIF games slated to begin next Friday.
Trailing early, South Pasadena spotted La Cañada the first 10 points on a 40-yard first quarter field goal field goal by Andy Kozanian and 1-yard touchdown by Spartans’ quarterback Brandon Reese with just under six minutes in the second period.
From there, the Tigers steamrolled, as senior Ethan Hong, the Tigers’ powerful fullback had another outstanding night, rushing for 146 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns while teammate Ivan Estrada picked up another 46 yards on four carries and a 11-yard TD to go along with three catches for 66 yards and two more touchdowns of 35 and 24 yards through the air.
“We wanted the win and we came back,” said a determined Hong afterwards. “The seniors weren’t going to take a loss.”
Going into the contest Estrada, a senior, knew it was possibly his last game in a South Pasadena uniform, “so I knew I had to come and give everything I had,” he said. “I want to give a huge thank you to my linemen.”
With full command of South Pasadena’s offense, the Tigers’ senior quarterback Samuel Luna-Long was 6 of 13 for 84 yards and threw the pair of touchdowns to Estrada within 18 seconds of each other, the second coming moments after Tiger sophomore Jack Riffle fell on a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Three plays later Estrada was rolling down the right side for the score with one minute remaining in the second quarter, giving South Pasadena its first lead 13-10.
Along with his heroics in finding open receivers, Luna-Long also had a 3-yard run for a score, adding to some impressive totals. The Tigers finished the night with four rushing touchdowns and 202 yards on the ground.
It wasn’t easy from the outset as the Tigers struggled to get their offensive game going. “When La Canada scored its 10 points, I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness, we can’t start like this,” said Chi. “We just had to stay calm. We knew what we were capable of doing. We just had to relax a little and execute, kind of refocus on our offense and we finally got it going.”
Once they did, it was like avalanche barreling down a mountain as the Tigers rolled just like Chi knew his club was capable of doing all season.
“Hong and Estrada had had huge nights for us along with Luna-Long,” said Chi, also praising the offensive line for opening up some big holes for South Pasadena’s impressive running game.
Doing the job up front for South Pasadena were center Andre Johnson, tackles Garrett Washburn and Noah Leider, guards Daniel Garcia-Villavicencio and Jared Lachica and tight end Johnathon Choi, who also came up big defensively with an interception.
It was another solid defensive effort by the Tigers, which locked in on the Spartans offense after La Canada’s early lead and were flying around, causing havoc for Reece who had little time to throw, especially in the second half. Three of his errant passes fell into the hands of Tigers’ defensive back Terrance Sweetman, who picked off three passes on the night, 12 overall on the season.
“We had a very disappointing first quarter of the game,” said Sweetman, “but we kept our hopes up, never let down, continued fighting through the rest of the game and scored 40 (straight). Our linebackers really locked them up and our corners and safeties did their jobs.”
And, at the end of the night South Pasadena won big.
“I’m very proud of the way our guys went after their quarterback, really pressuring him, doing a really fine job for us,” praised Chi.
After trailing early and held scoreless in the first quarter, it was an avalanche of scoring as South Pasadena put up 13 points in the second quarter, 14 in the third and 13 more in the final period.
Chi, all smiles when it was over, laughed watching his players run sprints from sideline to sideline when the contest was over. “Can you believe that?” said the joyful coach. “They want to run after the game. That’s how crazy those guys are.”
The Tigers’ coach called it “a really clean game for the most part and I’m really proud of them,” he said. “They have done everything we’ve asked of them and it showed on the scoreboard. I would say this was one of the better games we’ve gotten out of these guys.”
The necessary paperwork has been filed with the CIF and the Tigers are confident the season will continue for at least one more week.
“It doesn’t really matter who we play,” said South Pasadena Offensive Coordinator Jason Barnes, “we’re going to be dangerous.”
Kristoff Tessier contributed to this story.