With no hesitation, South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi gave a quick two-word response after being asked what it’s going to take to come out on top when his team travels to San Marino Friday night for the 66th meeting between the schools.
“Team effort,” summed up Chi, looking ahead to the 7:00 p.m. kickoff.
In preparation, the Tigers will have had two weeks to practice for the matchup following their 36-30 opening season victory on the road March 19 against La Cañada. With a bye last week, South Pasadena focused on individual drills — tackling, blocking, catching, and throwing — as most of the team’s game plan was put into place this week.
“We’ve been watching their films and they’ve got some big boys up front, some skilled players in the quarterback, the running back, a pretty good receiver, an elusive slot back,” explained Chi, examining what his club will be up against. “They have some major threats, so we just have to make sure we contain those guys as much as we can.”
A victory, noted the coach, hinges on the play at the line of scrimmage. “Who ever wins that battle is likely going to determine the winner,” said Chi. “So, we’re going to have to come out physical and play some solid football there. It will have a lot to do with who is going to control the running and passing game. It’s also going to be very important in stopping them on defense as well. That will be a very key part of the game.”
Chi is all too aware of what else is on the line in this one. “It has been awhile, for sure,” he said after being reminded that South Pasadena High hasn’t beaten its neighboring rival in 11 years.
The Tigers enter the game looking for their first victory in nine meetings between the two squads, last coming away with a win back in 2010 when Ed Smith was the coach. The coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the 2020 game scheduled last fall.
South Pasadena looked to have the edge when the teams met October 11, 2019, but the 1-6 Titans at the time handed the Tigers a narrow 10-7 loss, leaving them a 5-2 record and extending their overall series lead between the two schools at 34-28-3. South Pasadena went on to post a 7-4 overall mark, which included a first round playoff loss.
San Marino began its dominance in 2011 with the hiring of Mike Hobie, whose teams rattled off eight straight victories over the Tigers. In his final season, the Titans rolled to a 50-0 lopsided win in 2018, only a few months before announcing he was retiring at the end of the school year. Hobie, who built a lofty 72-24-1 record, including a CIF title in 2015, never lost to South Pasadena. Justin Mesa replaced him in 2019 and carried on the team’s winning ways in guiding the Titans to the 3-point triumph that year.
On March 26, Monrovia and San Marino were scheduled to meet but the game was cancelled, Chi saying the Titans experienced too many injuries in their previous game, a season opening 30-14 loss to Burroughs of Burbank.
Friday’s game pits the 1-0 Tigers up against the 0-1 Titans in a matchup that dates back to 1955 after the campuses broke apart. The South Pasadena School District was formed in 1907 at a time when students residing in nearby San Marino were given an opportunity to attend a high school of their choice since the city didn’t have one.
In 1920, San Marino students began riding the Red Car down Huntington Drive while attending a combined campus in South Pasadena. After about 30 years of sharing the same address to receive their education, San Marino opened the doors to its own high school in 1952. Three years later, the football rivalry began as the Titans blanked the Tigers 27-0 in the initial game. Today, the winner is awarded The Plaque, which carries the scores of all the games played between the two schools, and the Crowley Cup, established in 2010 in honor of the late Paul Crowley, who witnessed every contest in the series from 1955 to 2012 – an uninterrupted streak of 58 games.
Crowley’s son John, once said his father, a 1945 graduate of San Marino – South Pasadena High School, “He had a staunch devotion to both these schools, to both these cities, and to this annual local rivalry. His legacies to this game include lifelong promotion of both cities, his civic volunteerism and a deep love of high school football.”
Crowley died in December 2012 at the age of 84 and the game winning trophy the teams play for has never made its way to South Pasadena as a result of San Marino’s string of wins.
“The Crowley family is committed to continuing the great tradition and healthy rivalry between these two schools and neighboring cities,” said John prior to the last time the schools played each other in 2019.
Weighing in, Chi calls it a “huge game” each year, and winning The Plaque and Crowley Cup “is something we’re aiming for,” he said. “We thought we had a good chance of getting a win the last time we played them, but it didn’t happen. It’s a fine balance. If we put too much emphasis [on winning], the kids might be too anxious and nervous and maybe they won’t play as well under pressure. We’ll just focus on individual responsibility and accountability to the team and tell them to work hard. Hopefully, we’ll collectively put enough good plays together to win.”
However, there’s no escaping the thought of how many years it has been since the Tigers won the key contest. “They are aware of it, whether I put the pressure on or not, it’s more individual I think,” said Chi. “These kids grew up in South Pasadena and they know what’s at stake. We just have to prepare them game plan wise and make them feel comfortable, recognizing what they need to do on both sides of the ball.”
Chi enjoys every aspect of it, from the build up, practices, film sessions, and meetings with players to the game itself, working with his coaching staff from the kickoff, making tough decisions that might influence the outcome.
“It’s always exciting, with all its history” he said. “It’s fun, to be honest, getting the game plan done and then executing it. Giving our players an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than they are is great. We’ll just see what happens. Hopefully, we’ll come out on top by working hard.”
Following Friday’s road trip, the Tigers finish a shortened 4-game season playing a pair at home – Monrovia on April 9 and Temple City April 16.
As a result of the virus, two people per South Pasadena player will be permitted to attend the San Marino game as strict safety protocols are in place for a limited number of fans.
“It’s should to be a good game, it usually is,” said Chi. “I think we’ll be ready. We’re excited about the opportunity to play those guys.”