It wasn’t always pretty, ugly in fact at times, if you listened to South Pasadena High’s coach Jeff Chi in his post-game analysis, but the Tigers prevailed in the end Friday with some late night dramatics to turn away Viewpoint of Calabasas 21-17 in non-league football action.
It took a 57-yard scoring drive with the clock ticking down in the fourth quarter, engineered by South Pasadena quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, throwing short pinpoint passes down the field the last time the Tigers had the ball as they scored in the final minutes, before relying on their defense to stop the visiting Patriots as minutes turned to seconds. Viewpoint, making the best of the remaining time, drove the ball to South Pasadena 21 yard line, but came up short in picking up its first win of the season following a penalty negating a touchdown and an incomplete pass to finally end it.
Chi gave a tremendous measure of respect to his opponent, which took the ball from its own 34 yard line, moved the ball efficiently down field, only to be turned away when what appeared to be the winning TD to Luke Boehm was called back on a holding call in the closing seconds of the game.
On the pass by Niko Candido, the Patriots’ slippery quarterback who seemed to break tackles all night, broke to his right and threw a nifty pass behind two Tiger defenders, before finding his receiver in the right corner of the end zone.
South Pasadena fans collectively held their breath waiting for the call as the yellow flag remained on the field before letting out a sigh of relief following the decision.
Seconds later it was over and the Tigers, who won only three games a year ago, collected their second straight victory to open the 2019 campaign. Viewpoint, with plenty of talent in Candido and receivers Boehm and his brother Peter, combined with a big offensive line, threw the ball much of the night, keeping the Tigers’ defense off balance and on its heels. The Patriots fell to 0-2 with a matchup next against La Canada.
“They (Viewpoint) did a great job coaching their guys up this week,” said Chi following the narrow contest. “We may have come out a little flat. We just didn’t have enough flow of offense and were losing responsibility on defense. That got us in a hole a little bit.”
At one point in the first half, the Tigers were trailing 14-0 as Candido continued to hit open receivers with his strong arm and ability to run away from trouble.
“Lucky for us, we were able to fix it, get back into the game and came out on top, but it was an ugly game for us,” Chi said, noting that penalties were his team’s worst nightmare. “We just had way too many. You’re not going to win ball games when it’s second and long. The penalties killed us all night. We need to fix it and be a little more discipline and not have so many of them.”
Going into the game, Chi felt his club was the favorite, blaming himself partly, as he told his team, “We should never underestimate anybody,” he said. “We’re going to know our next opponent – Eastside – inside and out and when your number is called you better be ready to run, catch, whatever it is, be ready to go.”
Chi credits his club’s strong conditioning, being, perhaps, in better shape than the team on the other side of the ball, for much of Friday’s comeback victory.
“We knew because of that we could keep going at it, knowing it was a matter of executing and keep moving the ball forward,” he said, “and the boys did that.”
Trailing 17-14, the Tigers took the ball from their own 43-yardline with 4:58 left on the fourth quarter clock when Luna-Long went to work, throwing crisp short to intermediate passes down field during the Tigers’ two-minute drill, hitting Ivan Estrada for eight yards, Grant Huntley twice for 7 yards each before coming back to find Jonathan Stride, who took the ball down to the Patriots 36 yard line. After Joshua Cruzata couldn’t hang on to a pass, Luna-Long found daylight, picking up 9 yards on the ground, making it 3rd and one at the Patriots’ 20.
He kept the chains moving with another 8-yard pass to Estrada, putting the ball at the 11, and Ethan Hong bulled his way up field for nine more before Quentin Pithey punched it over from the two, putting the Tigers on top, 21-17 with plenty of time on the clock for Viewpoint.
The 10-play drive for the go-ahead touchdown was impressive as the Tigers methodically drove the ball down field in small chunks. “We knew we had enough time, and we knew we had gas in our tanks, so patiently took the ball down a little by little to eventually take it to the 2-yard line,” where Pithey pounded it into the end zone. Setting it up was Hong, who did his job when his number was called. “He really ignited our offense with that run,” said Chi. “That one play was great.”
Following the touchdown, the Tigers could only hope its defense would come up big down the stretch.
“We left a little too much time on the clock, but it worked out for us in the end,” said Chi, praising the play of Candido, who ran the Patriots’ offense well all night. “I have to give credit to that quarterback. He was able to run the ball, throw the ball on the run…a very big, physical, fast kid. He’s got some good athletes surrounding him. I think they’re going to do some good things in the future.”
With 2:24 left, the Patriots, starting from their own 34, got some big plays out of a trio of talented receivers as Viewpoint moved the ball down field, converting a key fourth down at the Tigers’ 45 when Candido ran four yards to pick up the first down. Soon after, he pushed his team to the Tigers’ 21, throwing into the end zone, only to run out of time. The holding call ended all hope for a late rally as South Pasadena players charged the field, celebrating a successful start to the 2019 season.
“They did a good job of scouting our offense,” Chi said of the Patriots. “They knew who our threats were, and they really got on it. They were able to shut us down and that kind of threw off our rhythm a little bit.”
After a scoreless first period, Candido put the Patriots on top 7-0 on a 2-yard run with 8:34 to go in the second quarter as Viewpoint went 57 yards in seven plays.
The Patriots pushed their lead to 14-0 with 2:58 remaining in the second period, this time going 75 yards on 7 plays as Lucas Herman carried the final two yards for the score.
Fifty seconds later, just before the half, Luna-Long connected with Estrada, who scored from 59 yards out to cut the Patriots’ lead in half, 14-7.
With 4:56 left in the third quarter, Kai Yamasaki booted a 24-yard field goal to put Viewpoint in front 17-7. The Tigers came back with their second touchdown on the night when Luna-Long hooked up with Estrada again, this time on a 24-yard scoring pass, making it a 17-14 contest with 40 seconds to go in the third period.
South Pasadena, pushed to the brink by a team that couldn’t do much in a 42-8 loss to Filmore the week before, put together its best drive in the end, going the distance for the deciding touchdown when faced with adversity and a potential loss.
Estrada finished the night with 129 receiving yards on eight catches and a pair of touchdowns.
Luna-Long had another solid outing, especially when called on to come up big in that final drive, hitting on 17 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Pithey, a rock at 5-11, 210 pounds, carried for 32 yards to go with the key touchdown in the contest. Terrance Sweetman made three catches for 23 yards, Huntley had two more for 14 and Stride hauled in five for 17.
As the stands were clearing out after the game, Chi was saying, “We need to learn from this, fix it and improve” as the Tigers prepare to play 0-2 Eastside, which opened the season with a 28-8 loss to Bernstein of Hollywood and were soundly beaten by Nordoff of Ojai 56-0 Friday.
“I think our conditioning is good, we just have more discipline on both defense and offense to cut down on those penalties. We have to be a little more consistent in catching the ball. I know our competition is going to get tougher and tougher as we move along in the season, so we have to get better as a group. We just made too many mistakes with penalties.”
Despite the miscues, there were some bright spots, including one play in the first quarter when Tiger defensive back Zachary Lukavsky tipped a Candido pass down the right sideline and Grant Huntley picked it off, racing up field about 25 yards on the turnover.
“Yeah, we had some big plays but I just know we can play better, and we will,” said Chi.