Telling his team to put their last outing behind them, saying “forget about it,” South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi has spent little time this week dwelling on the past as he prepares his club for a key Rio Hondo League contest Friday night.
A victory over neighboring rival San Marino will lock up at least a third place finish and a final postseason spot when CIF-Southern Section playoff action gets underway in just over two weeks.
With two games left on the regular season schedule, Chi knows the road getting there will be a lot smoother in beating a Titans team coming into South Pasadena, rather than its hopes coming down to the last game of the campaign October 28 against unbeaten Monrovia on the road. The Wildcats, a cut above the rest, sit atop the league standing at 3-0, (8-0 overall), followed by Pasadena Poly at 2-1 (4-3), South Pasadena 2-1 (4-4), La Canada 1-2 (5-3), San Marino 1-2 (3-4) and Temple City 0-3 (0-8).
“If we take care of business this week we’ll be in the playoffs,” assured Chi, knowing the odds of beating San Marino are much better than upsetting Monrovia. “As long as we get past San Marino we’re guaranteed third place. We’d like to have the opportunity to keep playing beyond the regular season.”
In preparation in playing the Titans, Chi told his club to “put that one behind you,” referring to the Tigers 28-8 setback to Pasadena Poly last week. “We had a bad game and it’s time to move on.”
South Pasadena had its chances, but three turnovers, failure to score in the red zone, missed assignments, along with a series of mistakes and poor tackling didn’t help their cause against the Panthers. “We have to go back to basics in protecting the football,” said Chi following the loss, a step backward after the Tigers had won three straight going into the contest with victories over Alhambra to end the preseason and Temple City and La Cañada to open up league play. Over that stretch, South Pasadena didn’t turn the ball over once.
“We’d get the ball moving against Pasadena Poly, then give it away on a turnover, and it was a big momentum killer for us,” said Chi.
The Panthers jumped out to a 21-0 lead at the break, added one more in the second half, and held a comfortable 28-0 advantage before the Tigers put their only points on the board in final minutes of the fourth quarter. Alex Gonzalez found the end zone on an 8-yard run and backup quarterback Jackson Freking connected with Jack Riffle for the two-point conversion and that was it for South Pasadena’s scoring.
“Not too many things,” said Chi, when asked what went well for his team against Pasadena Poly.
Adding to their woes, the Tigers lost starting center Aiden Marrujo to injury during the game and were forced to make an adjustment with new personnel at the position. “It upset our timing and caused some problems for us,” Chi said. “It was a pretty bad game overall for us. We just have to play better against San Marino and move forward. Our kids have the ability to win. As long as we execute as a team, limit our mistakes, know our assignments and be accountable for our teammates, I think we’ll be okay.”
San Marino will be looking for its 11th straight victory over the Tigers on Friday, and is coming off a narrow 22-20 victory over the Tigers last spring when the 2020 fall season was delayed on account of COVID-19.
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. San Marino’s field goal unit trotted onto the field following the penalty and successfully converted a 42-yard kick with no time left on the clock.
Friday’s matchup marks the 67th meeting between the two clubs as San Marino holds a 35-28-3 series lead dating back to 1955 when the contest was first played between the two schools.
“It’s always a big game when these two teams meet,” said Chi, adding that some side attractions will come with it this year. “It’s homecoming, and there will be a pre-game (South Pasadena High) Hall of Fame dedication ceremony, bringing back a lot of the school’s all-time greats. It’s going to be fun and a good environment.”
Twenty-four top athletes and one coach representing a variety of sports on campus will be recognized prior to kickoff while traditional homecoming activities return with the announcement of the “Royal Tiger” during a festive halftime ceremony.
For Chi and his team the focus will be on upending a San Marino squad that holds a long 10-game winning streak over them. Ending it, stressed the Tigers’ coach, won’t be easy. “It’s a big game between two teams that are next door to each other,” he said. “In all the film I’ve seen on them, they’re a very similar to us. They have some good athletes, so we’ll have work hard at slowing them down. We know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us, but our guys are looking forward to it.”