SPHS Tigers Football | First Round CIF Football Game Friday Night

Yucca Valley High visits South Pasadena for 7 p.m. contest Friday night as the playoffs are set to start.

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | The South Pasadenan News | SPHS Tigers Football Win over Marshall Thursday Pre-season.

It doesn’t take long to determine just how potent and high scoring South Pasadena High’s next opponent can be as the CIF-Southern Section Division 11 football playoffs are set to get underway.

The Tigers are preparing to face a team that just outscored its last two opponents 118-0.

Jeff Chi, who guided South Pasadena to an 8-2 overall record, including a 3-2 third place finish in the Rio Hondo League, is preparing the Tigers to host Yucca Valley, which will be making a 120-mile bus ride from the desert community with a strong arsenal of offensive weapons it hopes to showcase in Friday’s 7 p.m. first round contest at Ray Solari Stadium.

- Advertisement -

Chi and company will be going up against an explosive unit that can put up points on the board in bunches behind the running attack of Stephon Rogers, who the Tigers’ coach sizes up as a player with “good foot speed that can make plays,” adding, “We’re really going to have to contain him. That’s our top priority.”

Rogers, a junior, has powered his way for 1,185 yards on 122 carries, for a 131-yard average and 12 touchdowns over the nine games the Trojans have played. He’s coming off a 104-yard performance on the ground and a touchdown in his last outing against Cathedral City. In a loss to Coachella Valley earlier in the season Rogers rushed for 229 yards, packing the ball 28 times. He consistently topples or comes close to the 100-yard mark every game.

That’s only the start to stopping Yucca Valley, coming in at 7-2, 5-1, and second place in the Desert Valley League this season. The Trojans’ two top receivers, Myles Harper and Javin Hudson, both juniors, “are really athletic, can go up to make big catches,” said Chi. “We can’t let them do that on us.”

Harper has caught 39 passes for 800 yards and nine touchdowns while Hudson has pulled in 49 for another 768 yards and 13 for scores. Harper is averaging 89.9 yards per game while Hudson is just behind him at 85.3, making the pair a dangerous threat.

“We know we’ve got our hands full with those guys and we’ll need to make sure our defenders knock the ball out before they get into a position to catch it,” said Chi.

Doing most of the throwing is Trojans’ quarterback Michael Ramos, who has completed 115 of his 170 passes for 2,048 yards and thrown for 26 touchdowns.

Together, Rogers, Harper, Hudson and Ramos all played key roles in Yucca Valley’s convincing 70-7 onslaught over Desert Mirage on October 14 and in a 48-0 conquering of Cathedral City a week later.

No strangers to shutouts, the Trojans also had back-to-back 60-0 and 42-0 wins against Banning and Desert Hot Springs, respectively, earlier in the season.

On the other side, South Pasadena will counter offensively with quarterback Jackson Freking, who has thrown for 1,427 yards, connecting on 78 of his 146 passes, including 15 touchdowns over nine games. He was sidelined due to injury in one outing.

Richard Conti leads the team in receptions with 36 for 846 yards and nine touchdowns over 10 games while Quinn Stirling is next with 22 for 308 yards and two scores, followed by Sawyer Fox with six for 127 yards and a pair of TDs.

Behind a solid line much of the way featuring Ivan Vecerra, left guard Vicente Ortega, center Aiden Marrujo, right guard Thomas Carter, right tackle Logan Ayala and tight end James Dowd, running back Jason Hong has rushed for 976 yards on 168 carries and 17 TDs in the Tigers’ solid ground attack.

South Pasadena hopes to take care of business at home, win the first round game and move onto the quarterfinals in week two. A year ago, playing in CIF Division 13, the Tigers reached the semi-finals, losing to Montclair in the final minute of play.

“Being there last year, yes, I think they are,” said Chi when asked if his team was looking forward to the postseason, starting with Friday’s matchup against Yucca Valley. “I just hope they realize how important every game is. They are working really hard. They just have to get ready mentally, emotionally and physically, which is most important right now.”

To get here, the first step in a coveted CIF title, the Tigers went 5-0 in the preseason before losing close contests to Monrovia (35-21) and rival San Marino (23-21) in league play.

“I think all the success we had this season comes from the hard work we put in during the offseason,” Chi explained. “A lot of guys were in the weight room getting themselves physically ready to get through the long season of physical games. Then, during the season, I think our coaches did a great job of preparing our players with a game plan that would give us the best chance of winning.”

“We’ll follow the same recipe during the playoffs and see how far we can go,” continued Chi. “Then during the off-season, we’ll be back in the same grind of getting the players back into the weight room and starting all over again. It’s never-ending.”

Chi, who has roughly 34 years behind him as either a high school head coach or assistant, like his players, has enjoyed the overall experience this season. “The two games we lost, by two touchdowns to Monrovia and two points to San Marino, were close, so it has been good, but yes, obviously, I wish it were better. Our defense has been keeping us in ball games. That’s a big reason we’ve been winning, too. When we’ve asked these kids to play team football, success has come. From that aspect, I think we do have some good team players.”

Like Yucca Valley, South Pasadena has performed well on the defensive side of the ball, holding Marshall scoreless in a 53-0 win and backing that up the next week with a 12-0 victory over Heritage Christian, followed by a 56-0 thumping of Temple City three games later.

Overall, looking back on the 2022 campaign, Chi says there’s been the usual stress and anxiety that comes with any season, mixed with plenty of “excitement in getting the kids ready to be part of it and providing the coaching to compete each week,” he said.

The Tigers’ head coach, enjoying the ride with his players and knowing the season will be extended with a win, then paused, assessing it further, saying: “It has been great!”