Now that it’s over, Jeff Chi put South Pasadena High’s successful football season into perspective.
“It’s not the end of the world,” the Tigers’ football coach told his team following Fillmore’s 47-27 CIF-Division 13 first round playoff victory last Friday night. “I’m so proud of the way you guys fought back. I’m so proud to be a part of you guys.”
Chi stood in front of his team, down on one knee in front of him, for the final time at the conclusion of the 20-point loss after South Pasadena qualified for the postseason as an at-large team following a third place finish behind Monrovia and San Marino in the Rio Hondo League.
Going into the contest, a 60-mile bus ride from South Pasadena, the Tigers were 7-3, reversing a 3-7 record from a year ago. With high hopes and a good week of practice, Chi recognized he had something special in this group of players.
The Tigers trailed 28-6 at halftime and could have easily ended it all at that point, but as South Pasadena Offensive Coordinator Jason Barnes pointed out in his postgame remarks the players, “Even when we were down, we kept fighting, fighting, fighting. You guys weren’t going to give up. I’m proud of you. Great work, great job. Way to bounce back.”
From the 22-point deficit, the Tigers cut the lead to 28-13 the first time they had the ball in the third quarter after quarterback Samuel Luna-Long connected on a 14-yard scoring pass to Ivan Estrada. The touchdown was set up by a big South Pasadena turnover, Terrence Sweetman’s 12th interception of the season – a number that leads the state.
Five minutes later, the Flashes climbed out to a 34-13 advantage when Fillmore quarterback Jared Schieferle hit Ryan Gonzalez on a 10-yard pass for a touchdown, making it a 34-13 contest with 5:58 left in the period.
Yet, on this night, the never say-never-Tigers fought back once more, closing the gap to 34-20 when Luna-Long zipped a 25-yard touchdown pass to Sweetman, just a junior, who had a standout performance, making five catches for 70 yards and two TDs on the night.
Fillmore increased its lead to 40-20 with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter but the Tigers battled back, scoring at the 2:24 left in the game on a 22-yard pass from Luna-Long, closing it to 40-27, but the Flashes closed out the scoring as the clocked ticked down inside two minutes on a 38-yard run by Phillip Cervantez.
“Great job,” praised Barnes. “You kept fighting.”
Chi is comforted to know that his players played their hearts out trying to come away with a playoff victory. “Even though they were down, they never gave up and kept fighting back. We got close to within two touchdowns…It was back and forth. I wish we could take back some of the mistakes at the beginning of the game, some of the turnovers. It might be a different results.”
The Tigers coach called Fillmore a “well coached team that is very physical. I think they won the battle on the line. But I’m glad about how our kids reacted to this game and kept fighting.”
When the game was long over, after the stands had cleared and members of the South Pasadena squad prepared to board buses for the return trip home, in the far distance across the field came a Fillmore player on crutches slowly making his way to the Tigers’ sideline where he was greeted by Luna-Long.
“You’re a helluva quarterback,” said the Flashes’ 6-foot, 6 inch, 245-pound right tackle on offensive and nose guard on defensive who was injured during the contest but took the time to congratulate the South Pasadena quarterback of other Tiger players for a valiant effort.
He told those in earshot to, “Keep your heads high. You guys played great. You have a good team and deserve to be here.”
Editor’s Note: Thank you all to those who have read our coverage of this fall season. As we come to a close, please check out coverage for other sports wrap-ups and updates.