Now it’s getting remarkably close, something that hasn’t happened at South Pasadena High in 46 years.
With Friday night’s lopsided win on the road, the Tigers’ varsity football team is now only two wins away from its first CIF-Southern Section championship since 1975.
South Pasadena took care of business, coming away with its second straight playoff victory, this time in a rout, knocking off Western Christian of Upland 49-6 in the quarterfinals, and now only a couple of victories separate them from that elusive CIF title.
“It’s exciting for everyone involved here,” said Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi, who was already looking head to his team’s next opponent moments after the win. “Hopefully we can try to win the next one and bring the finals to South Pasadena.”
The Tigers, winners of six of their last eight games, are now 7-5 overall on the season and will prepare to play Montclair on the road in next Friday’s semifinals. The Tigers finished the regular season at 5-5, 3-2 in Rio Hondo League play, good enough for third place, before getting past Magnolia of Anaheim 21-14 at home in first round CIF action last week, setting up Friday’s decisive win over the Fighting Lancers, which didn’t put up much of a fight in this one.
Should South Pasadena get past Montclair, which handed San Gabriel a 48-6 loss in its quarterfinal matchup, the Tigers will play in the high stakes CIF final on November 26, a day after Thanksgiving, at home.
The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in Division 13, finished off a Western Christian team that ends its campaign with an 8-4 mark. The Lancers moved onto the postseason following a 1-3 fourth place finish in the Ambassador League and turned away Riverside Prep 22-13 in their playoff opener before falling to the Tigers.
For South Pasadena, it lives for another day, a big day indeed as it looks ahead to play against the 8-4 Cavaliers in next week. Montclair finished second in the Mt. Baldy League with a 2-1 mark.
South Pasadena led 14-0 after the first quarter, 36-6 at the half, 42-6 after three periods and added seven more in the fourth. The Tigers scored touchdowns the first five times they had the ball.
“I think they put themselves on the map here with their second CIF win,” said Chi, talking about his team. “They did it in a very dominant fashion. They did an excellent job of preparing and executing on both sides of the ball and really made a statement.”
With Montclair’s similar dismantling of San Gabriel, Chi said, “It’s going to be a battle” when the two teams face each other.
Before a running clock in the second half sped the game along at a fast clip due to the Tigers’ 35-6 lead, South Pasadena had done its damage as running back Jack Riffle had four rushing touchdowns and Jason Hong scored another on the ground. Quarterback Noah Aragon also ran one in and threw a touchdown pass to Grant Huntley.
Chi, who makes it a usual practice to meet with his team on Saturday mornings, is giving his players the day off this week. The coach said they will receive tapes of Montclair’s recent games over the weekend as he and his staff work on the game plan. Copies of the game plan, he hopes, will be in the player’s hands by Sunday.
“It’s amazing what these kids have gone through this year to get to this point,” said an elated Chi. “Obviously I’m proud of them. They had to go through a lot of obstacles to get here. We had a lot of close games that were lost. They kept their heads in there and fixed what they needed to and got better each week.”
Seconds later he added, “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Now it comes down to the Final Four in a divisional format that started out with 16 teams and South Pasadena has a chance to play past Thanksgiving if it reaches the CIF championship.
Chi and others thought they might be fighting an uphill battle when they arrived to play Western Christian, surveying the team on the other side. “Our offense really did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage and running the ball,” said Chi. “When we first got here we looked at some of their linemen and said, ‘They’re tall and big, bigger than they looked on film.’ But our guys had no fear, coming out and doing what they’re coached to do and it all worked out for us. Yes, this was a big win for us.”