SPHS Football | Tigers Play Heritage Christian Saturday

After a pair of losses to open the season, South Pasadena blanked Marshall of Los Angeles on the road 42-0 last Thursday for its first win the season

FILE PHOTO: Henk Frezier | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena High Varsity Football

His day starts early and ends late when considering the time spent teaching math courses, followed oftentimes by long, grueling football practices that roll into Friday night games, early Saturday meetings featuring film sessions with players and coaches in anticipation to doing it all over again the next week.

It can be time consuming, for sure, but no one’s complaining.

“A lot,” said Jeff Chi, South Pasadena High’s football coach when asked how many hours he works on average during the season, combining classroom instruction with football practices and games.

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Who’s counting? Not Chi. Between a day full of calculations with students and the fall sport that has been apart of his life for more than 30 years, he doesn’t want to know.

“Let’s just say it’s a very lengthy process,” Chi said between the two. “You have to put a lot of time into football. Otherwise, you’re going to go out there, look silly and not be well prepared. So, we put in the long hours so we know what we’re doing.”

Seconds later, Chi laughed, adding: “If I counted the hours it would be depressing. As coaches, we put in a lot of time not only during the season but also the offseason in the spring and summer.”

There’s a reason, of course, why his daily schedule is top heavy this time of year, speaking for himself and his coaching staff. “We do it for the kids and the love of the game,” Chi assured.

At week’s end, the Tigers’ coach hopes his team is on the winning side of the contest, especially after spending so much time preparing to play an opponent. “Weekends are when I spend the most time preparing, watching film of the team we’re playing next, doing the scouting report, talking with the other coaches and coming up with the game plan,” Chi explained.

The game plan worked to near perfection in South Pasadena’s most recent outing as the Tigers had little trouble getting past their third team on the schedule after coming into the nonleague affair with a pair defeats. South Pasadena improved to 1-2 after completely throttling Marshall of Los Angeles 42-0 on the road last Thursday, following losses to Lincoln (37-20) and Boron (33-14) to open the season.

After the win, Chi said he liked seeing improvement in all areas but stressed, “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We have a relatively young squad and there some things we need to get better. But overall, I liked what I saw.”

Offensively, Jack Riffle had a big night, scoring four times against Marshall all in the first half. “He was our jack of all trades player,” said the coach, noting the senior running back scored three times on the ground and caught another through the air. “It was great to see him play so well.”

The Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter on 3 and 4-yard runs by Riffle, who also found the end zone on a 25-yard run before pulling in a 15-yard touchdown pass from South Pasadena quarterback Noah Aragon in the second period, giving South Pas a commanding 28-8 advantage at the half.

Teammate Jason Hong was also solid on the ground, picking up some tough yardage, finding big gaps in the Warriors’ interior line. “He’s a sophomore who’s physical and tough to bring down and is doing some good things for us,” said Chi. “He seems to pick up good yardage every time he touches the ball.”

Hong and Riffle combined for 128 of the Tigers’ 163 rushing yardage on the night. Aragon, counting on South Pasadena’s running game to do most of the damage, through only threw 10 passes, completing seven for 122 yards and two touchdowns. His backup, Jack Freking, entered the game in the 4th quarter with the Tigers in control.

South Pas receiver Richard Conti caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the third period and Alex Gonzalez contributed a 21-yard scoring run in the fourth against a Marshall team that hasn’t put a point on the board in its first two games, falling 63-0 to Mary Star of the Sea in its opener. With the Tigers big lead, the clock ran without stopping in the second half.

Next up is a Saturday night 7:00 p.m. away game against Heritage Christian of Northridge, a team still looking for its first win after falling to Harvard Westlake 39-0 and Laguna Hills 30-8.

South Pasadena will be facing a “very physical, aggressive team,” in the Warriors, noted Chi. “That’s a little bit concerning. So, we told our offensive line they’re going to have to do a better job of attacking and knowing their assignments. We just have to be a little bit better in that area. We have to come up with a scheme where we’re matched better up front because they’ll come after us.”

The Tigers No. 1 objective last week against Marshall was to “protect the ball,” Chi said, and limit the mistakes and turnovers that hurt South Pasadena’s chances of coming away with wins in their first two outings. “They did a good job of that. This week’s objective is our offensive linemen have to match up to their strength, aggressiveness, attacking and dominate, staying with their blocks. We have guys who are big and strong like them. We just have to be consistent.”

One key injury note, the Tigers are without senior Grant Huntley, one of their top receivers, who suffered a fractured collarbone during the first quarter of South Pasadena’s loss to Boron and, according to Chi, could be sidelined another four or five weeks. “His goal is to try and come back sometime during the league season. He’s optimistic about his recovery.”

The coach is looking to Conti and Nick Eshom, both juniors, to continue making big catches while Huntley is on the mend, Chi saying his standout receiver “is a huge loss, but we always tell the kids, ‘You’ll always get a chance to play along the way, so you better be ready to go.’ So we’re pleased that these players have really stepped up.”

Following Saturday’s game, the Tigers host Alhambra September 17 in their final nonleague game before opening the Rio Hondo League campaign at Temple City October 1, La Cañada at home October 8, Pasadena Poly at home October 15, San Marino at home October 22 and Monrovia on the road October 28. All games start at 7 p.m.

Chi insists the nonleague season is a time to improve, get better week after week in anticipation to the league season. “We just have to continue to work hard over the next couple of weeks as we get ready to play teams in our league,” he said. “Our last game we showed signs of it. I like how hard the kids are working. But we still have a ways to go. As long as we keep working hard I think we should be okay. This week is a huge game for us. Hopefully, we can come out with a win.”