A wounded group of players walked past their coach, who urged them to get well fast as he hoped for a quick recovery.
“Yeah, we’re really banged up,” said a dejected Jeff Chi, who spent about 10 minutes following Friday’s lopsided 59-6 loss to unbeaten El Monte trying to lift the spirits of his team. Speaking to the players, kneeling in front of him on the field after the painful setback, the man guiding the Tigers’ varsity football program urged the assemblage to “wipe the loss away and focus on the next one.”
Chi knows in less than a week his battered unit will need to take the field again, this time against 1-1 Eastside of Lancaster as the injuries keep mounting.
His biggest concern is who going the lead the offense at quarterback. Justin Huff, who played much of last season at the position, has been sidelined with an injury following a wake boarding accident earlier this summer. He was also counted on as the Tigers’ kicker, but suffered a knee injury in the first four minutes of Friday’s game following a punt and limped off.
Adding to the misery, South Pasadena starting quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, who had a standout performance in the Tigers’ 35-14 opening season win over Mountain View last week with three touchdown passes, left in the third quarter against El Monte after suffering a concussion following a hard hit.
The team’s medical staff continues to monitor various injuries to Tiger linemen Kai Arakawa, Jared Lachica, Marlon Rosales and Daniel Garcia Villavicencio, all of whom Chi hopes to get back into action soon. Rosales didn’t play at all against El Monte while the others suffered injuries in Friday’s game.
“That’s what’s killing us right now – the injuries,” stressed the Tigers’ coach. “We’ve got to get some these guys back. It has been really tough lately.”
Offensively, the Tigers struggled to move the ball as Luna-Long had little time to throw against a massive Lions defensive front that put pressure on the junior quarterback all night. His replacement, Jaden Gallego, listed as a wide receiver and linebacker, managed the offense the best he could after Luna-Long went out.
“It was difficult for him to come into the game in that position,” said Chi about Gallego. “He did a pretty good job under the circumstances.”
By then the outcome was long decided as El Monte had jumped out to a 52-0 advantage.
Built for the run with a huge offensive line featuring twins Christopher and Christian Alvarez at tackle, the Lions opened up gaping holes all night for a trio of running backs, including Davon Booth, Abel Cueva and Abel Ochoa Jauregui. Christopher is listed as 6-4, 300 pounds while his brother tops out at 6-5, 295.
“Those guys really move people,” said Chi of the Alvarez brothers, both receiving plenty of looks from the college ranks. “They’re big and physical and really good.”
Booth, the most potent of the three El Monte running backs, put the lions on the board with a 55-yard scoring burst at the 8:11 mark of the first quarter. He followed that up by hauling in a 29-yard pass for a touchdown from quarterback Nathan Velasquez with 2:23 left in the same period, giving the Lions a 16-0 lead after a pair of 2-point conversions.
After Jauregui scored on a 56-yard run early in the second quarter, making it 24-0 following another successful 2-point PAT, Booth was back at it again, this time going 67 yards down the right side for the score. The Lions tacked on another two points on the conversion and suddenly it was 32-0 with six minutes remaining in the second half.
Cueva made it 38-0 with just over five minutes to go in the half on a 35-yard scoring run, and with 59 seconds before halftime, Booth caught his second touchdown on the night, this one from nine yards out with 59 seconds, lifting El Monte’s lead to 45-0.
The Lions increased their lead to 52-0 on the first play of the second half when Booth broke free for 70 yards. Marcos Figueroa busted loose on a 45-yard scoring play at the 7:29 mark in the third quarter to give the Lions their final touchdown on the night.
Ivan Estrada put the only points on the board for South Pasadena when he found a hole down the left side, going 35 yards for the touchdown with 4:44 remaining in the contest.
That made it 59-6 and, if nothing else, something to build on as the Tigers prepare for Eastside, which lost to Nordoff 42-6 in its last outing, next Friday in South Pasadena.
“The beauty of this game is you’ve got another game, and you can redeem yourself,” said Chi after the drubbing to El Monte. “Sometimes in life, a tough loss like this happens. You have to learn to let it go. Wipe it away and don’t let this one game ruin the rest of the season. It’s tough to lose like this, but during tough times, it’s important for the players to lean on each other as brothers and try to put it together the next time.”