It’s simple for those around South Pasadena High’s varsity football team this week – a win over La Cañada on homecoming night and the prospects are good that the Tigers will reach the CIF-Southern Section Division 13 playoffs.
Coming off what Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi called an “ugly win” over Temple City Monday night, South Pasadena can finish the regular season with an impressive 7-3 overall record by beating the visiting Spartans, who roll into town Friday night with slim postseason hopes at 5-4, 1-2 in league play.
The Tigers, like the Spartans, stand a chance to reach the playoffs as an at-large team with a victory, finishing third in a four-team league race behind champion Monrovia and runner-up San Marino, who automatically qualify as the top two finishers in league.
Chi looks at it as a bonus to put an extra game on the schedule with a win against a Spartan squad that scored the first three points against Monrovia last Friday night before giving up the next 51 in a lopsided 48-point loss. In three league games, La Cañada has been outscored 135-66.
The Tigers, 6-3, 1-2, last played in a playoff game three years ago while the Spartans haven’t been in one since 2014. Both teams enter Friday night’s battle tied for third in the Rio Hondo League, falling to Monrovia and San Marino and recording wins against Temple City.
South Pasadena supporters will get a twofer this week, as the Tigers play for the second time in five days when they lineup for the 7 p.m. kickoff against La Cañada Friday. Last week’s schedule contest at Temple City was forced to be played Monday night at South Pasadena as a result of a broken water pipe under the Rams’ field, school officials saying conditions were bad enough that the game had to be moved to South Pasadena.
South Pasadena scored midway through the fourth quarter Monday night, breaking a 14-14 tie, as running back Ethan Hong powered his way 14 yards on the ground and the Tigers stopped the Rams on the 1-yard line, stopping TC quarterback Felix Avitia as the clock ran out, preserving a 21-14 victory.
Now it boils down to one game for South Pasadena potentially locking up a playoff berth.
“That’s been our goal all year – to get to the postseason,” said Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi, recognizing the journey to get there hasn’t been easy. South Pasadena rolled through a 5-1 preseason before two straight losses in league to rival San Marino (10-7) and powerhouse Monrovia (49-7) suddenly changed their course of action, putting Rio Hondo League title hopes aside, the Tigers quickly thinking playoffs as an alternate route.
“Right now we’re focused on getting better and hoping to get there,” said South Pasadena senior running back Ivan Estrada, who has an 8.5 average on the ground, rushing for 144 yards on 17 carries through the first nine games.
Teammate Ethan Hong, a senior who has 627 more on 99 carries for an 8.5-yard average, agrees the La Cañada game is just a stepping stone to the next one. “Physically, I want to work on my conditioning and be in the best shape possible to play my best game of the season,” he said following the win over Temple City. “I’m ready to put everything on the line this Friday and go all out for my teammates, coaches, and city.”
Quentin Pithey, a force on defense from his middle linebacker spot, calls Friday night’s encounter “huge,” noting, “It’s the difference between our team going 6-4 and not making the playoffs or going 7-3 and having a shot at doing something good and going somewhere in the playoffs. Last week’s victory doesn’t count if we don’t win this week.”
Coming off a hard fought battle against the Rams, coupled with a short week to prepare for La Canada, like Estrada, Pithey said much of the game plan this week will require “rest, recovery and hard work.”
South Pasadena struggled defensively against Temple City trying to slow down the Rams’ 5-9, 200-pound running back Lewis Fots, who picked up yardage in big chunks, carrying players with him as he would go five and six yards at a time, finishing the night with 104 yards on 23 carries.
“He was a tough guy to bring down,” said Chi of Fots, noting that the Rams also have a pair of outstanding receivers in Jordan Ivie and Andrew Gutierrez. “We knew Temple City was going to be tough for us. We have to do a much better job of stopping the run against La Cañada.”
Temple City lost starting quarterback Alex Vera to an ankle injury near the end of the second quarter, and relied on Fots to pretty much to carry the offense in the second half, the big back serving as a human wrecking ball as he bulled his way up field.
“It was a hard-fought game,” added Chi, who quickly focused on the Spartans following the win. “La Canada is going to be a little like Temple City, throwing a few trick plays at us, they can throw the ball down field with a couple of pretty good receivers. It’s going to be another tough ball game for us. There’s a lot on the line. We’re trying to make it to the playoffs.”
Kristoff Tessier contributed to this story