Going into the contest, Jeff Chi knew it was going to be a tough battle, and following his teams first loss of the season Friday night the Tigers’ football coach talked about how his squad “hung in there and never gave up” against a talented undefeated Alhambra team.
“We fought to the very end and I’m proud of the guys,” said Chi moments after his club’s 35-21 loss to the Moors. “We have some things to work on as we prepare for our next game. Give Alhambra credit. We knew they were pretty good and we’d have to play our best football against them. We had our chances.”
The Tigers trailed 14-7 after one quarter, 21-7 at the half, 28-7 after three periods, then climbed back to make it 28-14 with just under six minutes in the game. Alhambra scored its final points with 1:38 remaining, giving the Moors a 35-14 advantage, before South Pasadena’s never-say-die offense tallied once more in the final minute, making it 35-21.
There was a flurry of activity in the fourth quarter with the Tigers scoring twice and Alhambra once.
“Our guys know we have a lot of other goals to accomplish this season and we can’t let down and feel sorry for ourselves,” Chi said. “I was proud of the fact that they fought, put up 21 points against a good team. Obviously, we did make some mistakes, but we just have to fix those against better teams.”
Alhambra jumped out to a 7-0 the first time it had the ball as quarterback Noah Rodriquez carried over from the two with 6:25 left on the first period clock. Little time had elapsed before the Tigers were on the board as speedy Ivan Estrada ran around the left side for a 15 yard touchdown, his first of two on the night, as South Pasadena tied it 7-7. The scoring play was set up by a 73-yard pass from South Pasadena quarterback Samuel Luna-Long to Estrada.
Alhambra went out in front 14-7 at the 2:05 mark of the second quarter when Moor quarterback Noah Rodriquez found Vidhan Gurung in the left corner from 7 yards out.
The Tigers hoped to go into the half trailing by only seven, but the Moors put a wrench into that plan by scoring again with 27 seconds before the break when Rodriquez hit Kody Chuang on an 8-yard scoring toss.
Alhambra added another touchdown with 5:47 gone in the third quarter as Henry Soto bulled over from the 4, increasing the Moors lead to 28-7.
South Pasadena, held scoreless in the third period, mounted its best drive of the night, going 75 yards on 10 plays before Luna-Long drilled a 4-yard touchdown pass to Estrada with 5:57 left in the game, closing the gap 28-14. The Tigers hurry-up offense was impressive, Chi saying after the game, “Maybe we should have gone to that a little bit more.”
After the Tigers failed to come up with the onside kick, the Moors were back in business at midfield, going the distance and controlling the clock to put their final points on the board with just over a minute and half to go in the game, jumping out to a three touchdown lead 35-14 as Luke Herrador went the final four yards.
Yet, Chi talks all the time about the resiliency of his team that never wants to say its over. With 52 seconds left in the game Luna-Long hit Jonathan Stride on a perfectly thrown ball for a 10-yard touchdown, giving the South Pasadena sideline something to get pumped up about.
“Scoring late like that was good for the kids,” said Chi. “It didn’t matter that they were down (on the scoreboard). They wanted the points. Again, I’m really proud of how they fought back.”
Luna-Long, sharp under center all night, was 20 of 24 and threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried four times for 25 yards. Estrada was his main target, hauling in nine catches for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Stride pulled in another six catches for 88 yards. Grant Huntley added four more for 31 yards. Ethan Hong, the Tigers power back, rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries.
Tiger coaches questioned a number of calls from the officials, nullifying at least one score and some big plays down field. “You can’t control what they do,” said Chi of those wearing stripes. “The only concern on my part was protecting our guys, like a late hit or a helmet to helmet when those calls are not made. We have to prevent that from happening in the future.”
With the loss, South Pasadena drops to 3-1 on the season while Alhambra improved to 5-0.
Luna-Long said it feels “amazing” after his top performance, adding, “It really shows what kind of team we really are, fighting all the way to the end.”
Scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns in the final six minutes when the odds were against them was something he’ll take with him into practice and next week’s game.
Hong likes the way his teammates came back, saying, “This team has so much potential. We just have to work on getting our tackling down, executing our plays, and catching the ball.”
As explosive as they come on the football field is Estrada, who blitzes defenses with his remarkable speed. “I loved this game. It was a great game. We fought hard,” he said, liking the way the 2019 season is sizing up despite Friday’s loss.”
“I love this team. Everybody’s close to one another. We’ve all known each other for years, hanging out together. We connect,” concluded Estrada.
Alhambra had only given up 15 points in its previous four games, so racking up 21 against them was a solid achievement by Chi’s club.
“That’s pretty impressive on our part to put up that many points against a good team like that,” said the coach. “I thought it was a moral victory for our guys. So, we’re going to keep harping on the positive things about our team and eliminate the mistakes as we move forward.”
The Tigers are gearing up to play Bassett of La Puente on September 27 at home.
“It’s be another big game for us,” said Chi.