Jeff Chi is all for it – Sunday’s news that his South Pasadena High football team will go up against an opponent that is coming off a losing 4-6 regular season record and finished fourth in the Orange League with a 2-3 mark.
And, it couldn’t get much better for the Tigers, a third place Rio Hondo League finisher, scheduled to host the contest when Magnolia comes to town, making a long bus ride from Anaheim to play South Pasadena in the 7:30 p.m. first round CIF Southern Section game Friday night.
Further, Chi said he was “pleasantly surprised” when informed his club was seeded No. 1 among the 16 Division 13 teams, and with a 5-5 overall record, 3-2 in league, could make a realistic bid for a CIF title. “I don’t remember the last time we’ve had a first round home game,” he said. “I bet it has been 30 years, even going back to 1975 perhaps.”
The makeup for the CIF’s 14 divisions is based on a mathematical system with teams earning points for victories, calculated further by strength of schedule.
“I know there’s a new CIF playoff system, and going through all the algorithms, I don’t know how it worked out that way, but I’m just glad it worked out in our favor,” said the Tigers’ coach.
Meanwhile, Monrovia, the frontrunner in the Rio Hondo League, is being rewarded for its perfect 10-0, 5-0 league mark, and coming off a convincing 56-7 win over South Pasadena, by hosting a Division 6 home game against another league champion, 9-0 Norte Vista of Riverside.
Pasadena Poly, which finished second to the Wildcats, takes its 6-3 overall, 4-1 league mark on the road to face 8-2, 2-1 Westminister in a Division 8 encounter.
“I don’t know how it mathematically worked out for everyone and I know it’s a bummer for those guys,” said Chi of Monrovia and Pasadena Poly. “In any system, some coaches are going to be happy and some are not. It’s just the way things are. It ended up in our favor, so we really can’t complain.”
Pleased by the news, Chi asked: “Is it the Year of the Tiger – the Chinese Zodiac?”
Not exactly, that belongs to the ox this year, but the tiger is coming in 2022. Chi simply likes the postseason scheduling for his team. “I’m just glad we’re placed where we are and have an opportunity to play against these guys (Magnolia) and the other teams in our bracket.”
As a result of the new playoff system, two first place championship teams in Monrovia and Norte Vista go head-to-head, with one getting knocked out of the playoffs. One of two teams with worse records – Magnolia and South Pasadena – will move on to the quarterfinals a week later.
Chi has no control of the CIF playoff structure, only knowing he has to get his players prepared to take on an opponent “with pretty decent size and speed, and from the little I’ve seen they have a lot of different formations on offense and run many, many different plays,” he said of the Sentinels. “From a defensive perspective, they’re difficult to scout.”
Foremost, stressed Chi, his club “can’t have turnovers,” he insisted. “That’s our No. 1 priority, hold onto the ball. Second, I think our speed might be a little better, so we’ll try to run outside and pass on them as well. Their squad seems a little bit smaller, so conditioning is a huge factor, too. We have to make sure our guys are in shape and we just get physical with them in the first half and try to wear them out.”
In looking at the other teams in the Tigers’ division, Chi knows there’s a realistic chance for the Tigers to win four straight and grab a long-awaited CIF crown, but for now his full concentration is getting past the Sentinels Friday.
“It’s literally one game at a time,” said Chi. “You win or go home now.”
South Pasadena is expected to have starting quarterback Noah Aragon back under center after suffering an injury in the Tigers’ narrow 24-21 win over San Marino in the ninth week. Jackson Freking took control of South Pasadena’s offense last week against Monrovia and “did a decent job for us, but then again we were playing the toughest team in the league,” said Chi. “He was in a tough situation, but hung in there, throwing some good passes and we had a good running game here and there.”
Running through all the playoff scenarios before CIF’s divisional announcements Sunday morning, “We never expected to be seeded No. 1, but our kids are excited about going to the playoffs,” said Chi. “They were excited about beating San Marino and now they have a chance to make something special out of the season even more than what they’ve already accomplished,” said Chi. “Hopefully, they will stay focused, work hard and play together as a team against Magnolia.”