A one game losing streaking is likely to quickly come to an end Friday night as South Pasadena High faces a team in search of its first victory of the season.
The Tigers, winners of their first three games before being dealt their lone setback, a 35-21 loss to Alhambra last week, look to improve on their 3-1 record Friday night when 0-5 Bassett from La Puente pays a 7 p.m. visit to Roosevelt Field in South Pasadena.
While South Pasadena has collected wins over Mountain View of El Monte (53-13), Viewpoint of Calabasas (21-17) and Eastside of Lancaster (13-6) to go along with the loss to the Moors, the road hasn’t been easy for Bassett, outscored by opponents in the handful of contests 227-66 as they’ve fallen to Artesia (39-23), Franklin (63-0), Adelanto (42-7), Workman (35-30) and Sierra Vista (48-6).
Yet, as Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi often says, “We can’t take anyone lightly,” knowing it’s important to continue pushing his team at a high level for the next two non-league contests in preparation for the four-game Rio Hondo League slate, which starts October 11 at home against rival San Marino.
After Friday’s game against Bassett, the Tigers face Pasadena Poly on the road before meeting the Titans in league play, followed by Monrovia and Temple City – both on the road October 18 and 25, respectively – and La Cañada at home on November 1 to wind up the regular season.
Although it has been more than 40 years since they won one, Tigers’ coaches know a league crown, among the team’s goals this season, is within their grasp. The opportunity to reach the CIF-SS Division 13 playoffs is a real possibility if they fall short.
“I know it stings a little bit losing to these guys,” said Chi following the loss to Alhambra Friday night, but he came away impressed with the effort of his team which came back to score 14 points in the final six minutes of the game against the CIF Division 13 No. 1 ranked team. “We fought, fought, fought. That’s what I like about these guys. They never gave up.”
Who knows, said an optimistic Chi, if the season continues to go in a positive direction for the Tigers, South Pasadena and Alhambra could see each other in the postseason.
“If we do, I want the guys to learn from their mistakes in this game, improve and be better the next time,” he said. “I know we can play much better.”
At one stretch against the Moors, South Pasadena trailed by three touchdowns, 28-7, with 5:47 left in the third quarter after Henry Soto carried over from the one for Alhambra.
It looked like curtains for the Tigers. “But you guys kept fighting, fighting and fighting,” South Pasadena Offensive Coordinator Jason Barnes said in his post-game remarks following the game. “None of you guys hung your head. You kept going and going and going. That’s what I’m most proud of. Take that as a moral victory tonight.”
South Pasadena trailed 14-7 after the first quarter, 21-7 at the half, 28-7 after three quarters before outscoring their hosts 14-7 in the final period, demonstrating their no-quit attitude.
“I like how they fought back,” said Chi noting, “We won’t make excuses, and will continue to work hard. We’re going keep positive and work on the mistakes we made and get ready for Bassett. We’ve been training these guys and they’re mentally tough, running, lifting weights and practicing really hard. They’ve been taught to never give up, fight to the very end.”
Cool under center, Tigers’ quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, showed his senior leadership by completing 20 of 24 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns against Alhambra. Ivan Estrada hauled in nine of them for 137 yards and a pair of TDs while Jonathan Stride had six more to go along with a touchdown. Teammate Grant Huntley contributed six catches for 31 yards.
South Pasadena has a solid ground game behind the swift Estrada, who can be dangerous for defenses once he gets into the open field. Chi talks about getting the ball more on the ground to the fleet back, but likes the productivity he’s getting out of him as a receiver.
Much of the rushing duties have been handled by Ethan Hong, who carried the ball 12 times last week against the Moors for 72 yards, as he’s proven to be a workhorse in the Tigers’ offense with 255 yards over the first four games.
South Pasadena coaches know the outcome could have been closer had a few plays gone the other way. A holding call nullified a South Pasadena High touchdown by Stride late in the second quarter that would have tied it. Instead, Alhambra took the ball with 2:20 left after the stop and drove 69 yards in nine plays, Moors’ quarterback Noah Rodriquez finding Kody Chuang on an 8-yard scoring passing in the closing seconds to make it 21-7 at the break.
South Pasadena had a few defensive gems on the night, the most notably when Terrence Sweetman intercepted a Rodriquez pass on the Moors’ first drive of the second half. The turnover celebration was short lived, however, as two plays later the Moors returned the favor with a pick of their own. South Pasadena’s defense also came up big in the third quarter after Alhambra drove the ball to the Tigers’ 9, only to come away with no points after missing a 27-yard field goal.
Trailing 28-7, the Tigers put together their best drive of the night, humming along as they moved swiftly down field, scoring on a 4-yard pass to Estrada, closing the gap to 14 with 5:57 left in the contest. Alhambra came back to mount a quick touchdown, pulling out to a three touchdown lead, before Luna-Long connected with a Stride from 10 yards out with 52 seconds remaining on the fourth quarter clock.
“We’re not going to hand our heads over the loss,” said Chi. “These guys know we have a lot of other goals in mind for this season to accomplish and we can’t let our heads be down and feel sorry for ourselves. I was proud that we fought, put up 21 points and defensively stopped them on some key downs. We made some mistakes but we just have to fix them as we move forward.”