SPHS Football | Tigers Host Alhambra Friday

South Pasadena looks to improve on its 1-3 record with a win over the Moors in its final non-league game of the season

FILE PHOTO: Esteban Lopez | SouthPasadenan.com News | Ray Solari Stadium with the High School Gymnasiums in the background, at SPHS

If South Pasadena High can get the same effort out of its team that it showed in the second half of last week’s 28-20 road loss to Heritage Christian then Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi likes his chances in his club’s next outing.

South Pasadena was trailing 14-6 at the break last Saturday night and down by 22 going into the fourth quarter before turning up the heat and making it close at the end.

“We were a totally different team,” said Chi of his team’s near-comeback win. “In the second half they had a great attitude and mindset and started clicking, chipping away at the lead, coming up with big plays on offense and defense.”

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The Tigers had a chance to potentially tie it with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final two minutes but were stopped on fourth and four at the Warriors’ 15-yard line after a bad snap and fumble ended their hopes.

“We couldn’t execute the play and that was pretty much the game,” said the coach, who is now preparing his team to play neighboring Alhambra (1-2) at home in a 7:00 p.m. kickoff Friday night. “The play we designed for our quarterback to sweep to the right and pick up the first down, but it just didn’t happen and that was it. It was a play that we had run during the game and was successful, but unfortunate things happen and we fell short.”

Chi and his fellow coaches did see a team that fought to the end, saying, “They could have been blown out,” but liked how it battled. “We have a lot of young guys on the team and are going to make mistakes, but for the most part they played really well. A lack of experience has hurt us, so we have to keep doing the same thing over and over to the point they feel comfortable. We have a talented group of kids, but it’s a matter of making the effort and meshing as we get closer to league play.”

The task at hand now is to find a way to get past the Moors and pick up a much-needed win going into the Rio Hondo League campaign. Following Friday night’s contest, the Tigers will have two weeks to prepare for Temple City, slated for October 1 on the road. South Pasadena is then home for three straight bouts against La Cañada (October 8), Pasadena Poly (October 15), and San Marino (October 24) before heading to play Monrovia (October 28) in the regular season finale.

Like he’s insisted over the past month, non-league games are designed to get his team ready for league play. “We’re just trying to get better with the idea, first to win the league, and if not that, to finish second or third and get into the playoffs.”

Despite last week’s loss, Chi did see some promise, especially in those who have been  instrumental in moving the football and putting points on the board.

The game against Heritage Christian was played at Granada Hills High School, where NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway got his start. No surprise, then, that it’s named John Elway Stadium after the famed signal caller.

South Pasadena rushed for 252 rushing yards as a team.

Running back Jack Riffle picked up 151 yards on the ground, had a touchdown, and made two catches for 163 yards. He was the go-to player on offense, with 113 of that yardage in the first half alone on 17 carries, breaking tackles and spinning out of trouble along the way.

“Our running game against Heritage Christian was just outstanding,” said Chi. “Our linemen did a great job of opening holes. That was good to see.”

Teammate Alex Gonzalez, filling in for starter Ethan Hong, out of the lineup, carried the ball eight times for 65 yards, and had a pair of catches for 14 yards. He rushed for 15 and 24 yards – the latter the longest run of the night – and caught a pair of passes. When he wasn’t playing linebacker he played linebacker on defense.

Richard Conti, making some big catches along the sidelines and over the middle, hauled in four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown while Quinn Stirling contributed one for 15 yards.

Doing the throwing was Tigers’ quarterback Noah Aragon, who struggled at the outset, not completing a pass until the second quarter. He ended the half two for eight for 14 yards a fumble and interception. Aragon then fueled a comeback down the stretch, finishing the night 9 of 18 for 107 yards throwing a touchdown and scoring one on the ground.

South Pasadena trailed Heritage Christian 6-0 after the first quarter, scored on a 5-yard run by Riffle in the second, but missed the extra point and went into halftime behind 14-6. After the Tigers had a scoreless third period, they pumped life into a 28-6 deficit in the fourth, making it close with a flurry of points, 14 in all, on a 1-yard run by Aragon and a 28-yard pass to Conti.

Concern was felt on the South Pasadena sideline in the second quarter when Aragon came up limping after being pulled down on a play. He sustained a deep cut from the turf and returned the remainder of the game following the Tigers first score with backup quarterback Jackson Freking at the controls.

James Dowd, just a freshman, played well for the second straight game at defensive end, putting pressure on the Warriors’ quarterback throughout, and made a key tackle on third down late in the contest, forcing Heritage Christian to punt as the Tigers were finding their way on offense.

“It disappointing with the losses obviously,” said Chi, assessing where his team is at this stage of the season. “We still have goals we want to achieve, so we have to keep finding ways to fix our mistakes and do better as we get ready for Alhambra and teams in league. We’re looking forward to playing those guys and hopefully we’ll have a good effort.”