Jackson Freking is mindful that his success in South Pasadena High’s season opening victory last Friday wouldn’t have come had it not been for some consistent solid play from those playing up front.
When the Tigers’ senior quarterback was asked how he was able to jumpstart his team’s offense in such a positive fashion, throwing for three touchdowns on the night in South Pasadena’s convincing 28-7 victory over visiting Lincoln, he pointed to those protecting him in the pocket.
“Our offensive line has been playing out of their minds,” said Freking, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 276 yards, and no interceptions. On the receiving end of those scoring passes were James Dowd with a pair and Sawyer Fox with the other.
Dowd hauled in three passes on the night for 74 yards while Fox had two for 38 yards. Moving the ball around through the air, Freking found Richard Conti seven times for 101 yards and Quintin Stirling on five occasions for 67 more.
Freking and Conti have long been friends, growing up together in town while carrying that relationship onto the football field where they expect to be a major force defenses will have to confront and figure out week after week. “We’ve been best buddies for 17 years now,” said the QB. “He knows what I’m doing out there and I know what he’s doing. Our chemistry is a lot higher than a normal high school duo would be.”
Running back Jason Hong, who carried the ball 22 times for 76 yards, had the Tigers’ lone score on the ground to round out the scoring against Lincoln.
All in all, reasoned Freking, it was a good night for throwing the football as he effectively spread his passes around to a variety of open receivers.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work and it’s starting to pay off,” he said. “After last year, when we were so close, everyone took it personally and went into the off season with a whole different level of grit. Everybody’s been putting in an insane amount of work.”
Freking alluded to his club’s 28-21 CIF-Southern Section semifinal playoff loss to Montclair to end the 2021 season. With the setback, South Pasadena finished with a 7-6 overall record, including a 3-2 third place mark in Rio Hondo League play behind champion Monrovia and Pasadena Poly.
The Tigers reached the postseason seeded No. 1 in CIF Division 13 and beat Magnolia out of Anaheim 21-14 in the first round and Western Christian 49-6 in the quarterfinals before falling to the Cavaliers 28-21 in a cliffhanger.
Montclair scored with only four seconds remaining in the game as Mathew Tenajero bolted 18 yards up the middle, bounced off tacklers, and fought his way into the end zone, breaking a 21-21 deadlock.
With the birth of a new season, a chip on their shoulders thinking on how it ended a year ago, the Tigers opened the game against Lincoln with Freking tossing a touchdown early in the contest. The game was tied 7-7 after the first quarter before South Pasadena scored twice in the second to grab a 21-0 lead at halftime. The Tigers added one more touchdown in the third quarter to close out the scoring.
“The only thing that could stop us was us,” he said. “We had a few penalties, but it didn’t stop us. We’re jelling and becoming a cohesive unit and everything is working well. We just have to worry about ourselves at this point.”
Like Freking, South Pasadena Coach Jeff Chi credited the Tigers’ offensive line for controlling the line of scrimmage against Lincoln. Opening sizable holes in the running attack and giving Freking the time he needed were left tackle Ivan Becerra, left guard Vicente Ortega, center Aiden Marrujo, right guard Thomas Carter, and right tackle Zachary Quirk. Fox and Dowd are the tight ends.
Defensively, the Tigers kept Lincoln’s running game in check and put pressure on the quarterback most of the night. On the other side, South Pasadena had it its way offensively and “seemed to have the game under control” throughout,” said Tigers coach Jeff Chi. “We were pleased with Jackson’s performance. It was very impressive.”
The Tigers knocked off a team in Lincoln that went 10-0 a year ago before going to the playoffs, which included a victory against South Pasadena.
“We played a clean game against them this time with limited penalties,” continued Chi, “and so we’re pretty pleased with that effort.”
On Friday the Tigers go on the road to face another LA city school in Maywood, which is coming off a successful 8-3 season a year ago. “I know they’ll be coming after us with a pretty big line, a solid running game, and are going to be tough physically,” said the coach. “So, we have another challenging game ahead of us.”
Chi stressed that the mindset is to open the 2022 campaign against some strong early opponents to prepare for the Rio Hondo season opener against potent Monrovia, a team that handed them a 56-7 loss a year ago, on October 29 at home.
“We’re just focusing on what we do well, trying to eliminate mistakes, penalties and pick up some wins going into league,” said Chi. “It’s great to pick up our first victory against a tough team, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Understandably, Chi recognizes he’s unable to put a competitive team on the field without strong support around him. He’s quick to point out that his coaching staff, including Offensive Coordinator Jason Barnes, Defensive Coordinator John Morant, Special Teams Coach Paul Hugasian have been with him at the varsity level every step of the way in recent years. At the lower level are another dedicated group in John Fonseca, Gavin Chi, Tino Nguyen and David Keshishyan.
“Sometimes they don’t get the recognition, but they work hard in doing their job and I’m glad to have them on my side,” praised Chi. “We’ve got a good team of coaches here.”