It can only get easier from here, insists South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi, who has been convincing his team all week that the world will be right again with a pair of victories in the final two weeks of the Rio Hondo League regular season.
After a pair of losses to the league’s toughest foes the past two weeks in rival San Marino (10-7) and powerhouse Monrovia (49-7), Chi hopes everyone surrounding the program will buy into his belief that the Tigers, who had a solid 5-1 preseason, can reach CIF-Southern Section Division 13 postseason play by winning twice down the stretch.
South Pasadena finishes off the league campaign with a travel date to Temple City on Friday before hosting La Cañada November 1, in the Tigers’ annual homecoming game. With a softer schedule ahead, Chi looks at it as an opportunity to seize two victories, go 2-2 in in league and, more importantly, 7-3 overall, which he hopes will attract attention from CIF officials selecting at-large berth teams.
The top two league finishers, appearing to be Monrovia and San Marino, at this stage, automatically go to the playoffs. The Tigers could have avoided going to the postseason the hard way had they come away with wins against the Titans and Wildcats in the first two weeks of the league campaign.
“We feel like we had a real chance against San Marino and knew it was going to be tough to beat Monrovia last week,” said Chi. “They (Wildcats) just outmatched us physically and talent wise. We realize we’re quite not there yet as a program. Our focus has been to compete with teams that are more compatible with us. Looking back on the past seven, eight weeks, you take away Monrovia and San Marino, everything else has been pretty good. The losses are recent, so it’s clouding over our heads right now, but we have to shake it off and focus on the next two and get an opportunity to move onto the playoffs and make a statement there.”
The Tigers were last in the playoffs a three seasons ago, and haven’t won one since 2004 when they beat Azusa. So, Chi want’s nothing more than to see the Tigers, 5-3 overall, 0-2 in league, get past Temple City (2-4 overall, 0-2 in league) and La Canada (5-3,1-1) and have a shot a winning the CIF Division 13 championship. South Pasadena is currently ranked No. 9 in the division.
“We’re in a pretty good position of getting into the playoffs as long as we win our next two games,” said the Tigers’ coach, looking to stop the Rams’ passing threat Friday night consisting of Justin Ivie, with 256 yards on 18 catches on the season and three touchdowns in five games, and Andrew Gutierrez, who has pulled in 10 passes for 186 yards and 1 touchdowns.
“I think we have a pretty good game scheme to defend those two,” said Chi, noting that Temple City quarterback Alex Vera, who has completed 42 of his 100 passes for 708 yards and six TDs, “is pretty mobile and we’ll have to try to contain him inside.”
Vera, taking off on the ground, has picked up 221 yards on 34 carries through six games.
“They have a pretty good running game, to go along with the passing attack, so we’re going to have our hands full,” said the coach. “They’ve struggled a little with their offensive line, so we’ll have to be aggressive and go after them and take advantage of that.”
Coming off the Monrovia lopsided loss, Chi knows opponents won’t be as difficult as the Wildcats the rest of the way. “Yeah, with a real tough one behind us, we’ll now concentrate on what we can control and that is having a good game against Temple City.”
The Tigers will come at their next opponent behind quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, who has thrown for more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns over eight games. Ethan Hong continues to carry the ball well, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, picking up 502 yards on the season. Top receivers Ivan Estrada with 30 catches for 470 yards, Jonathan Stride with 26 more for 292 and Grant Huntley, who has hauled in17 for 323, have been impressive targets for Luna-Long.
All the solid numbers mean nothing without a victory Friday night.
“It all boils down to us playing well the next two games,” said Chi. “We’re determined to get into the playoffs and I still think we can.”