A pair of perfectly thrown balls were thrown into the hands of Terrence Sweetman, who looked like he had miles of real estate behind him had he made the catches.
“I just dropped them,” matter-of-factly said South Pasadena High’s wide receiver, who struggled in the first quarter against Mountain View Friday night as the Tigers ushered in the 2019 season with a lopsided win.
Sweetman admits he was feeling “really nervous in the first quarter” of the game. South Pasadena quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, throwing precision-type passes, didn’t back off, continuing to call No. 88’s number, and when he found him in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 10:45 left in the second period, catapulting the Tigers to a 13-7 lead, Sweetman found his groove, and all was good with the world again.
“It gave me a lot of confidence, gave me a little boost,” said Sweetman, who would score twice more on the night while helping his teammates roll to a 53-13 win over host Mountain View in El Monte.
With the touchdown, South Pasadena stepped on the accelerator from there as Sweetman, running back Ivan Estrada and the rest of the Tigers’ offense turned it up a notch, pushing the ball up the field at will while going into halftime with a commanding 34-7 lead.
Estrada, who had two touchdowns on the night, likes the weaponry South Pasadena has on the offensive side with Luna-Long, Sweetman, backup quarterback Grant Huntley, who can also catch the ball, wide receiver Jonathan Stride and, of course, himself.
“This is a great week to start off the new season,” said Estrada, who rushed for 199 yard total yards, including an 85-yard kickoff return among his heroics.
“This is great,” he continued. “It means we’re coming back for that 10-0 season.” With the big win, the Tigers have said good-bye to last year’s miserable 3-7 overall mark.
In his postgame remarks, Jeff Chi talked about his club’s offense, saying, “It’s going to give defenses headache, not knowing what we’re going to throw at them next.”
Much of the deceptiveness, not knowing if they’re going to run or pass, goes to Tigers’ offensive coordinator Jason Barnes, who kept the Vikings defense off balance throughout the first three quarters when South Pasadena built a 40-point advantage going into the final period.
“That’s a great way to start the season,” he told the team huddled together after the game, before praising how the Tigers got out of the gates, Luna-long engineering an impressive 72-yard drive in nine plays, giving South Pasadena the early 7-0 lead.
The game’s public address announcer belted out, “We’ve got ourselves a ball game” when Mountain View knotted the score at 7-7 on a 48-yard touchdown run off a reverse with 6:13 left in the first quarter.
But then it really wasn’t as the Tigers were relentless, Sweetman hauling in the neatly thrown pass from Luna-Long for his first score, Estrada going five yards for a touchdown with 6:59 to go in the second quarter, finishing off a 61-yard drive that was helped by runs of 35 and 25 yards from the senior 5-foot-8, 160 pound ball carrier, who slips through the fingers a ease of defenders.
By then it was 20-7 and the fun for the Tigers was only beginning. On their next possession, the Vikings went three and out, quickly setting up in punt formation. A bad snap sent the ball past the Mountain View punter, who hurriedly picked it up and booted the ball up field, settling at the Viking 11. On the first play from scrimmage, Luna-Long, who finished the night passing for 137 yards and rushing for nearly 30 more before sitting out the second half as a precautionary measure with a slight groin pull, found Jonathan Stride from 12 yards out for the score, making it 27-7.
There was still 3:43 left on the clock when Stride caught the 18-yarder, more than enough time for the Tigers to strike again. After forcing the Vikings to punt, Luna-Long connected with Huntley on a 54-yard TD with 2:52 showing on the second quarter clock and propelling South Pasadena to a 34-7 lead.
Sweetman, a junior, now confident he could catch anything thrown his way, pulled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Huntley at the 8:05 mark of the third quarter after the sophomore quarterback rolled to his right, buying time, and found the wide open receiver.
After the Vikings mounted their best drive of the night going 63 yards, Jonathan Ortiz pushing forward for the final yard on a quarterback plunge, making it 40-13 after a missed PAT, Estrada in spectacular fashion took the kick off and raced 85 yards for the score with just under five minutes to go in the third period. That made it 47-13 before Sweetman, now having the time of his life, finished the scoring by returning a punt 55 yards with 1:33 left in the third quarter, closing the scoring, 53-13 with a quarter to go.
With a 40-point difference, the CIF mandated running clock came into play and the game’s 12 remaining minutes ticked off the scoreboard uninterrupted, ending it with little excitement.
South Pasadena faces Viewpoint of Calabasas on Friday, August 30, at home in a 7 p.m. kick off. For the moment, however, Chi and his club want to take time to relish the win over the Vikings.
“It feels great,” he said about the outcome and his club’s spirited play throughout. “I’m very proud of what they did on the field tonight. I really like the way the guys really stepped up.”