After Difficult Loss, Tigers Prepare for Monrovia Friday
Asking his team to pull itself off the mat following a deciding blow, a field goal with no time left on the clock, won’t be easy as South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi prepares his team to play Monrovia at home Friday night in the third game of a coronavirus four-game shortened season.
The Tigers were just a heartbeat away from breaking a nine game losing streak to their neighboring rival San Marino, when it would take a miracle comeback for the host Titans to win it.
Trailing 20-19, San Marino got what it was looking for in the final seconds, helped by an interference call in the end zone against South Pasadena after throwing a Hail Mary pass, which placed the ball at the Tigers’ 20-yard line following the infraction. A game can’t end on a defensive penalty, which allowed San Marino – winners of nine straight games between the two schools going into the contest – to extend its winning streak to 10 as the Titans successfully converted a 37-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.
The Tigers had just taken the lead in the final minute of play of Friday night’s contest when backup quarterback Jackson Freking ran a bootleg 8-yards for the score, giving South Pasadena a brief 20-19 advantage. After getting the ball back, San Marino, with precious little time, came up with two big plays, including the pass interference call and ensuing field goal to the claim victory, prompting a wild celebration on the Titans’ side of the field.
“He had the option of either running the ball or throwing it and decided to keep it, running it in for the score,” said Chi of Freking’s ability to find the Tigers’ end zone and give South Pasadena the lead. “He’s very elusive, making a couple of guys miss him, and came up with a big touchdown for us.”
In wasn’t long after when the Titans pulled out front. On the pass interference call, bodies went up, arms flailing, leaving Chi questioning the call on the field. “I looked at the film and couldn’t see how that could be possible,” said the Tigers’ coach on Saturday. “But that’s from my perspective.”
Freking was put into the starting lineup after Chi and his coaching staff learned Thursday that the team’s top quarterback, Noah Aragon, would not be playing due to a personal family matter. Freking, just a sophomore, helped the Tigers junior varsity to a win over San Marino that same afternoon. He had little time to prep for the varsity game outside of an emergency practice Friday morning “to make sure he was ready to go,” explained Chi. “He did an amazing job just keeping us in the game and came close to winning it for us. His performance was impressive. I was happy for him in a huge game. Under the circumstances he played very well and was very poised in the pocket. Granted, he made a few mistakes here and there but for the most part he did a great job.”
Freking also hit Grant Huntley on a 30-yard scoring pass and Jack Riffle rushed from two-yards out to round out the Tigers’ scoring.
Arguably, it was one of the craziest, most bizarre finishes in the 66-year history of the rivalry that dates back to 1955. With the win, San Marino cushioned its lead in the series to 35-28-3.
Now with all the dramatics of a gut-wrenching defeat behind them, the task facing the South Pasadena coach and his team will be how to lift a Tigers’ unit off the ground after just finding itself in a demoralizing finish. “We have to have a short-term memory loss and move on from here,” said Chi when it was all over, “and get ready for Monrovia. We just have to come out and give it all we’ve got and play our best football, play hard and have fun with it.”
On a positive note, Chi’s club will be playing its final two games at home after traveling to La Cañada for a March 19 season opening 36-30 victory over the Spartans, and to San Marino last week, suffering its lone season loss. The Tigers and Titans have identical 1-1 records going into their third game in a unique year that looks to include two football seasons. Soon after this set of four games ends, teams like South Pasadena will begin holding late spring and summer drills, coupled with weight training, in anticipation to the normal fall campaign. That is, of course, if the number of coronavirus cases continues to fall throughout the state and nation.
“We have about five months before we get an opportunity to play San Marino again, so we’re going to emphasize getting into the weight room as soon as possible and really hit the weights hard to get physically ready,” explained Chi, noting he will give his team about a week off at the conclusion of the 4-game slate before training begins again. “We will concentrate on getting bigger, stronger and faster during the off-season months. Hopefully, the loss to San Marino will be something the team carries with them during the off season.”
For now, however, all the focus – as difficult it might be to get over what just happened to them – will be on picking up their second win against a traditionally strong Monrovia squad. The Wildcats come into the game with a 2-1 record, including Friday night’s 35-28 win over Sierra Vista at home.
“We’re going to give it our best shot against those guys,” said Chi about the Wildcats, hopeful his starting quarterback will return to the lineup, but ready to go with Freking if he’s unable to play. “As coaches we told the kids you can’t make excuses and you just have to find ways to compete. They know the situation they are in.”
There’s no escaping the heartache of the loss to their nemesis just three miles to the east, but Chi knows it won’t be long before the two schools matchup again. “It was an exciting game, back and forth, back and forth, but I wish it would have had a different outcome,” said the Tigers’ coach. “We just have to regroup and be ready to go again this week. The loss feels like the rug was pulled out from under our feet, but we just have to put it past us and be ready to play another tough one against Monrovia.
Original publication, Friday, April 2
An already long winning streak just got longer for San Marino High as the Titans won their 10th straight football game over South Pasadena Friday night, turning away the Tigers this time 22-20 on a late field goal to win it.
South Pasadena held a 20-19 lead deep into the game, but the Titans rallied in the closing moments as the Tigers were called for pass interference. The Titans field goal unit trotted onto the field following the penalty and successfully converted a 37-yard kick with no time left on the clock.
Following the boot, a celebration ensued as jubilant Titan players jumped up and down, slapped high fives and danced off the field, following their second straight narrow victory over the Tigers. The last time the two teams met – pre-coronavirus – in 2019 San Marino won it 10-7.
It marked the 66th meeting between the two clubs as San Marino improved its overall record to 35-28-3 dating back to 1955 when the contest was first played between the two campuses. With the victory, San Marino improved to 1-1 after an opening season loss to Burroughs of Burbank two weeks ago. South Pasadena got past La Canada 36-30 in its opener on March 19, and is also 1-1 during the COVID-19 shortened four-game season.
The Tigers will be looking to rebound in search of their second victory April 9 when they host Monrovia before winding up the campaign April 16 at home against Temple City.
With the victory, the Titans have a tight grip on The Plaque, a trophy featuring all the scores from all past battles 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. He 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.