They didn’t want it, refused, rebuffed the offer.
When South Pasadena High football coaches were willing to let their team have an early Saturday morning practice off because of a bye scheduled this week and an impressive start to the 2019 season, the players turned it away.
Huddled, listening to postgame comments by the Tigers’ coaching staff following Friday night’s third straight victory, this one – a long way from home – in Lancaster, there was a resounding no by those assembled on one knee listening intently while enjoying the aftermath of a 13-6 non-league victory over Eastside.
“No way,” yelled a player on one side. “We have work to do.” Nearby, came, “No days off until the end of the season.” A third player, declared, “We’ve got to get better, much better. We’ll be at practice!”
Saturday morning workouts, starting at 8:30 a.m., are generally brief with the usual amount of stretching and watching film of the next opponent, but with their next game not scheduled until September 20, if there’s ever a time to give a team a little reprieve from the football field with seven games still remaining on the regular season schedule, Tiger coaches felt this was their best opportunity to do it.
On a roll, liking the idea of winning, a resounding “no thanks” came from this bunch.
“It says a lot about their character and they really want to work hard, they want to fix their mistakes and improve,” said Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi about his club’s desire to return to the practice field when sleep took a back seat following a 90-minute bus ride home from the dessert community Friday night. “Right after this victory, they’re now focused on Alhambra and want to keep this thing going.”
It’s easier to get up for a Saturday practice when the Tigers have a good thing going, enjoying the fruits of long hours of conditioning over much of the past year, putting themselves in top shape, ready to absorb the pounding of a long season. When you’re unbeaten, turning away three straight opponents, the momentum of winning carries you into the next week, even when no game is on the schedule.
“They’re just anxious to start getting ready for their next game against Alhambra,” said Chi, as South Pasadena players celebrated at midfield. “I just know we can play so much better, especially on offense. Our defense was fabulous tonight, but offensively, we had way too many penalties. We made some great plays, but have gone backwards. You can’t be doing that against good teams.”
Coming into Friday night’s contest, the Tigers knew they had to stop the Lions’ quarterback Semaj Howard, who took the snap on most plays, and simply looked for an opening in South Pasadena’s defensive front, before heading up-field. He got his yardage, rushing for well over 100 yards, but importantly for the Tigers, he was kept out of the end zone until late in the game when he zipped around the right side from 10 yards out, scoring with 3:25 left, for Eastside’s only points of the night.
After a scoreless first quarter in which the Tigers had opportunities to put points on the board, South Pasadena, frustrated by penalties, finally pushed the ball across at the 10:04 mark of the second period when Quentin Pithey went the final yard following a 30-yard pass to Ivan Estrada to setup the touchdown. The extra point was missed.
After it seemed like either team could get off a play without a penalty, the Tigers clinging to a six point lead, the clock ticked down to eight seconds on the second quarter clock when South Pasadena scored its final points of the night as running back Ethan Hong carried from the three, making it 13-6 after the successful conversion.
Helping to make the touchdown happen was a key interception of a Howard pass by the Tigers’ Terrance Sweetman. Deep in their own territory, Estrada then took a swing pass from quarterback Samuel Luna-Long and raced 73 yards, putting the Tigers in position to add to the lead on Hong’s short burst.
While South Pasadena’s defense continued to contain the Lions’ 5-11, 190-pound junior quarterback, forcing Howard to the inside most of the night, the Tigers offense struggled to maintain drives, consistently stopped by miscues and yellow flags dropped by officials.
“We made a few more plays than they did, I guess,” said Chi when asked what was the difference in the game and why South Pasadena was able to come out on top.
Then he laughed, saying: “We just had a little more points.”
Hong put up some big numbers for the Tigers, carrying the ball 19 times for 173 yards to go along with his touchdown. Joshva Cruzaka added 26 on five carries. Estrada finished the night with two catches for 117 and Luna Long, who saw limited action in the second half nursing a slight wrist injury, hit on 6 of 10 passes for 125 yards. Backup quarterback Grant Huntley was at the controls following Eastside’s late TD, directing the Tigers’ offense, as South Pasadena pounded the ball up field and ran out the clock.
However, this was a night for recognizing the defense “that really had a helluva game,” praised Chi. “Limiting those guys to just six points was a great effort.”
The coach doesn’t have to be reminded his team is 3-0.
“Yeah, I really want these guys to enjoy this moment,” Chi said. “They should be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. They still have a lot to accomplish in the future, so we need to focus, move forward, look ahead to a tough game coming up against Alhambra, and improve.”
There’s no rest for the weary as the Tigers were back at practice Saturday morning following their big win the night before and a long ride home on a joyous bus.
That meant Chi was back at the office, too – the alarm sounding early.
“I guess that means I won’t be sleeping in tomorrow,” he said with a laugh following the victory, grateful his team, committed to winning, won’t let him.