SPHS Tigers Football | South Pasadena Faces Bellflower in CIF Semifinals

South Pasadena High hosts Bellflower Friday night at 7 p.m. in a CIF-Southern Section Division 11 football game.

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | South Pasadenan.com News | Tigers beat Yucca Valley Trojans in the first round of CIF Playoffs.

Bellflower High runs a one dimensional offense, and the coach faced with stopping it knows the task won’t be easy.

It didn’t take Jeff Chi, guiding South Pasadena’s hopes in Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 11 football game, long to figure out after watching tape of the visiting Buccaneers what it’s going to take to come out on top.

Easier said than done, the Tigers’ coach recognizes his team must stop the run against Bellflower, which depends heavily on it – almost exclusively- to win games.

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It’ll be like slowing down a stampede of horses.

In 12 contests to date, Bellflower has run the ball 430 times for 3,654 yards and and scored 50 touchdowns on the ground while throwing the ball little, only 29 times, connecting on a mere 14 passes for 526 yards, including eight touchdowns through the air.

Who exactly is this Bellflower team?

“They’re definitely not delicate flowers,” said Chi laughing. “With the double-wing they run the ball about 97 percent of the time, if not 98.”

South Pasadena’s defense might see the Buccaneers throw the ball five times if they keep to the same pattern up to now.

“They just pound you,” Chi said. “It’s going to be a battle in the trenches.”

Asked to step it up for the Tigers will be defensive ends Sawyer Fox and James Dowd and tackles Isaiah Cooper and Dylan Feak. South Pasadena’s linebackers consist of Matthew Takasugi, Giovanni Cruz and Quinn Stirling. They have a huge test as well.

“Our line is really going to have to make sure tackles in this one,” said the coach. “Our
linebackers have done a great job this year. Those guys have been super aggressive making solid tackles. They really need to do the same this week to prevent them from getting big plays on us.”

Bellflower will be looking to control the clock as it looks to power its way up and down the field. “With the type of offense they run, it’s going to be a tough challenge for us,” Chi said. “It’s basically 10 guys blocking for one running back. They just pound it out and it’s a matter of who is more physical. So, we really have to control the line of scrimmage.”

The Tigers will be hosting a team that has an identical 10-2 overall record, coming in for the 7 p.m. contest finishing first in the Mid-Cities League. South Pasadena, 3-2 in Rio Hondo League play, good enough for third, is coming off a 35-21 win over St. Margaret’s in the CIF quarterfinals last week while the Buccaneers downed Chino by the same score.

With its dominant running game, the Tigers face a tough challenge in stopping senior Tray Pinckney, Bellflower’s top running back, who has rushed for 1,304 yards on 119 carries and has 12 TD’s in 12 games to his credit.

Teammate William Taylor has picked up another 826, packing the ball 143 times and 12 touchdowns while Buccaneers quarterback Adonis Thomas has chipped in with 543 yards on 56 carries and 11 TD’s.

Throwing sparingly, Thomas has put the ball in the air only 19 times all season, connecting on nine for 316 yards while tossing four scoring passes. His top receiver is Robert Morrow, who has seven catches for 240 yards. Antione Garner is next with two for 74 yards and two touchdowns. They may not catch much but are fierce blockers in the Buccaneers ability to roll past opponents with its vaunted running game.

On the other side, the Tigers run a balanced attack. Chi is getting consistent play out of his quarterback, Jackson Freking, who has completed 105 of his 181 passes for 1,774 yards and 16 touchdowns. He hit on 11 of 15 passes for 156 yards and a TD in last week’s win over St. Margaret’s.

Freking’s top target is Richard Conti, who has pulled in 41 passes for 899 yards for a 21.9-yard average and nine TD’s. He hauled in three passes for 24 yards in the quarterfinal victory over the Tartans.

Stirling, who goes both ways, has also been a big contributor in the Tigers’ passing game, catching 37 more for 552 yards and three touchdowns. He had five catches for 106 yards and a 48-yard score against St. Margaret’s. Dowd, another two-way starter, has also been a big part of the offense with 16 receptions for 202 yards and three TDs on the season.

The go-to guy for the Tigers’ running game has been Jason Hong, who has a 6.3-yard average on the ground, rushing for 1,517 yards on 242 carries and 24 touchdowns over 12 games. Against St. Margaret’s, he picked up 235 yards on 37 carries and scored three times, one going for 16-yards, the next for nine and the other for 53.

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | South Pasadenan.com News | Tigers beat Yucca Valley Trojans in the first round of CIF Playoffs.

“During the season we kind of had to keep an eye on him not to run him into the ground, knowing we needed him for the playoffs,” said Chi of Hong. “Every week is an important week. So now we’re in a do-or-die situation and he’s coming through for us in a tough way, gaining yardage by pounding the ball and really punishing the defense. He’s a huge bonus for our team.”

Hong has gained over 500 yards on the ground in the last two games, making a huge impact for South Pasadena’s offense. “His play has really opened up our passing game because teams really have to focus on him,” added Chi. “So, he’s been a vital part of our team.”

Takasugi, when not playing defense, has helped the Tigers’ solid rushing attack, picking up another 284 yards on 52 carries for a 5.5-yard average. He gained 33 yards on seven carries in the St. Margaret’s win.

Doing the heavy lifting for the Tigers, opening big holes for Hong and others is South Pasadena offensive line: left tackle Ivan Becerra, left guard Vincenti Ortega, center Aiden Marrujo, right guards Thomas Carter and Logan Ayala.

Chi calls them “the engine” of the Tigers’ offense, making it go. “People don’t notice but those guys are really hitting hard, knocking people around, which makes it easier for Hong to get that yardage,” praised Chi. “They’re making a difference in our tough running game.”

Fortunately for the Tigers, Chi says his team is playing its best football going into the third week of the postseason.

“That was our goal,” said the coach. “It has been a long season. We’ve been at this for almost four months now, so we have to make sure our players are physically in good shape. I think the weight room has had a huge impact on that. Everything seems to be falling into place with our running and passing game. We’ve been scoring on some tough teams and playing good defense. So, reaching the semifinals, we’ll see what happens.”

South Pasadena has reached familiar territory. A year ago, the Tigers were on the doorstep of the CIF title game only to fall to Montclair 28-21 in the final minute. Chi and company look to change all that this year by winning the semifinal encounter and play for their first CIF championship since 1975.

“I like how they have responded to what we’ve asked them to do,” said Chi. “There’s no resistance. They’re trusting and believing in what we want them to do, just being patient and not panicking when teams get on top of us. I’m very proud of their maturity and composure in a tough game situation.”