Jeff Chi likes it, the idea that South Pasadena High’s football team has won its first three games to open the 2019 season, but there’s a troubling area of play the Tigers’ football coach says needs vast improvement.
Miscues bring misfortune and Chi wants them to stop.
“The penalties are just killing us,” he said, reflecting on a promising season that includes victories over Mountain View (53-13), Viewpoint (21-17) and Eastside (13-6), equaling the Tigers win total of a year ago when they went 3-7.
Chi fears the streak may end if his club, coming off a bye, doesn’t put an end to having officials throw so many yellow flags on Friday nights. In the last two games alone, the South Pasadena coach projects his team has been penalized about 350 yards.
“We can’t win ball games with those kind of numbers,” he said. “We have to do a better job of controlling that.”
The Tigers have given up two touchdowns as a result of penalties and know they can’t continue to make them as a tougher schedule looms, starting with Friday’s road contest against Alhambra, with at 7 p.m. scheduled kickoff.
A week later, South Pasadena hosts Bassett at home on September 20 before taking on what Chi considers the Tigers toughest non-league opponent, with a travel date to play Pasadena Poly on October 4. The Rio Hondo league opens October 11 with the Tigers hosting rival San Marino, followed by road games at Monrovia and Temple City on October 18 and 25, respectively, and the regular season finale on November 1 at home against La Cañada.
“We’re just trying to put the best game plan together to beat Alhambra,” said Chi, not thinking beyond what’s ahead of his team next. “We’re just looking at one game at a time getting the guys ready.”
It will be a match of two undefeated teams as the Moors come into the game with a 4-0 mark after getting past South El Monte 26-6, Rowland 28-3, Temple City 41-0 and Wilson 35-6.
“It’s going be a hard fought physical game for us,” continued Chi. “They are very similar to our squad. Their skill guys are really good. They have a tough running game and the defense flies around. They make great plays on special teams. The only thing I think we lead them in is the penalties. We have more penalties than those guys, so that’s something we obviously need to cut down on. It’s going to be exciting.”
Like the Tigers, Alhambra runs a spread offense with the Wing-T tossed in, the coach noting with a laugh, “They look like us.”
Key for South Pasadena will be getting the ball into the hands of senior running back Ivan Estrada, who Chi calls a “real playmaker,” based on his ability to make things happen. In the three Tiger victories Estrada has dazzled the crowd, picking up 547 all-purpose yards. He has rushed for 95 yards, gained 247 more through the air, has 156 in kickoff returns and 29 on punts.
“He’s the guy who has the ability to blow a game wide open,” said the South Pasadena coach.
The Tigers feature a strong arsenal of players who can carry the ball effectively alongside Estrada, including Ethan Hong, who has 183 yards on 23 carries for an impressive 8.0 average, and Quentin Pithey, another workhorse with 94 yards after packing the ball 24 times.
The Tigers used the off week to get some players on the mend, including quarterback Samual Luna-Long, who came out of the Eastside win with a slight wrist injury after banging it on a helmet.
Medical personnel are being extra cautious “just to make sure he gets enough rest,” said Chi, expecting Luna-Long to be back on the field Friday night.
Luna-Long has solid command of the Tigers’ offense, completing 34 of 54 of his passes for 430 yards, making Estrada, Jonathan Stride (12 for 65) a Grant Huntley (6 for 83) his top receivers.
Outside of his quarterback and lineman Joshua Hutchinson – recovering from a broken arm –Chi says his club is relatively healthy.
Chi said Tigers will be anxious to get back on the field after a two week layoff from live competition.
Chi and his coaching staff have been warning South Pasadena players that six standout Moors’ offensive players have the ability to put points on the board in bunches. Alhambra quarterback Noah Rodriquez, just a sophomore, top receivers Vito Russell, Kody Chuang and Vidhan Gurung, along with running backs Jose Ortiz and Issac Hernandez can break a game open in a hurry.
“They’re all pretty good players and we have to make sure we’re ready to go,” said Chi, “It’s going to be a tough game for us.We just have to be smarter with our choices we make on the field. We can’t be blocking in the back, having illegal players down field. It’s a mental thing. We just have to be more under control and not let penalties beat us. I think the guys just get too excited in certain situations and it’s costing us.”
Offensively, the Moors run an RPO – run, pass, option – after looking at the Tigers lineup on defense as it approaches the line of scrimmage, then reacting to the situation.
“If they think the run is going to work, they give the ball to the running back,” said Chi. “If they think we’re overplaying the run then they throw the ball behind our second level of defense, the linebackers. It’ll be like a chess match. We’ll show them a few disguises and hopefully, we’ll confuse the quarterback a little bit. It’s going to be a good game.”