SPHS Tigers Football | Team Plays at Home for Football Playoffs

Tigers are in third place behind Monrovia and the Titans as they prepare to play Yucca Valley at home at 7 p.m. in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs starting Friday.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Tigers playing rival San Marino Titans.

Jeff Chi likes to compares it to USC-UCLA classic matchups over the years, a bitter football rivalry that can go either way when the two teams meet.

Like the clash between the two major Los Angeles universities, there’s always plenty of uncertainty when South Pasadena High and San Marino line-up in the neighborly annual battle between the two teams.

“All the records and statistics are thrown out, “said Chi, South Pasadena’s head coach, talking about the longstanding matchup that goes back to 1955 when the Tigers and Titans first met. “You just never know what’s going to happen.”

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While Chi figured South Pasadena had the edge on paper going in, it was San Marino that prevailed 23-21 last Friday, the Titans’ Jacob Kreinbring booting a 27-yard field goal with 20 seconds left on the 4th quarter clock, which followed a similar script of close finishes between the two schools in recent years.

It took awhile for the winning kick, Kreinbring finally sending the ball through the uprights on his third attempt following a pair of Tiger penalties in the final minute.

Kreinbring’s game-winner launched a giant celebration on the Titan sideline and for the home crowd.

The Tigers’ loss created a 3-way tie for second place in the Rio Hondo League behind champion Monrovia. San Marino won the tiebreaker for second while South Pasadena finished third and La Cañada fourth.

The top three teams automatically qualify for the CIF-Southern Section playoffs starting Friday with first round games. South Pasadena will host Yucca Valley in Division 11, Monrovia travels to Northwood in Division 8, and San Marino is home against Arroyo in Division 12. La Cañada applied for an at-larger berth and will also be in Division 11 with the Tigers, taking on Campbell Hall. All games are at 7 p.m.

Yucca Valley comes in to South Pasadena with a 7-2 record, including a second place 5-1 mark in the Desert League behind undefeated Coachella Valley.

The Trojans will be making about a 120-mile bus trip to play in the initial game postseason contest. Following round one games come the CIF quarterfinals on November 11, the semifinals on November 18 and the finals on either November 25 or 26.

“We know they are a young squad,” Chi said of Yucca Valley. “They’ve got some big boys up front and have a pretty solid running back, quarterback combo. So there’s a duo threat there. They also have a couple of good receivers. Their team is getting better and better each year. It’s going to be another tough game for us.”

Now that the preseason and regular seasons are over the Yucca Valley game “will be the third season of our season, or part three” said Chi, breaking it down as the preseason, regular season and postseason.

The focus now turns to Yucca Valley with hope of making a deep run into the playoffs over the next month. “We just have to clean up our mistakes from our game against San Marino game,” he said. “It was very uncharacteristic of us the way we played. We just have to improve do our job. If we do our thing we hope to see success. We have to come out and be ready to play.”

With the league campaign now over, Monrovia finished 8-2, 5-0 on top, followed by San Marino 5-5, 3-2; South Pasadena 8-2, 3-2, La Canada 6-4, 3-2, Pasadena Poly 1-8, 1-4 and Temple City 2-8, 0-5.

The message from Chi and his coaches to Tiger players following Friday’s setback to the Titans was “to put the game behind them, keep their heads up and get ready for the postseason.”

The mission hasn’t changed, insists Chi. “We just have to get better as we look forward to the playoffs.”

South Pasadena went to the semifinals in CIF Southern Section Division 13 play a year ago, falling to Montclair in the final minute.

Not making any excuses, giving San Marino all the credit for the victory, Chi acknowledged his team was not at full strength as some of his players were battling health issues going into the game. “I told them to go home, rest all day Saturday and Sunday and get healthy,” said the coach following the loss.

“With the playmakers we have we felt we had the edge (against San Marino), but it comes down to us executing and actually getting it done,” continued Chi. “They just weren’t going to fold and hand us the win. San Marino came out and made the plays when it counted toward the end. We had opportunities and just didn’t execute.”

In his post-game remarks, Chi also told his team with the playoffs looming. “It’s time for a fresh start. Let’s take advantage of it and be ready to go.”

After a scoreless first quarter, the game was tied 7-7 at the half. It was deadlocked 14-14 going into the fourth quarter, San Marino outscoring South Pasadena’s 9-7, Kreinbring’s kick the big difference.

South Pasadena quarterback Jackson Freking, who connected on eight of his passes for 143 yards, tossed a 42-yard TD to Quinn Stirling and found the end zone twice using his legs, scoring from 13 and 15 yards. Stirling’s score put the Tigers up by one point with about three minutes left in the game until the Titans drove the ball about 60 yards for the deciding points.

Jason Hong, the Tigers top running back, turned in another solid effort, rushing for 122 yards on 20 carries for a 6.1-yard average.

Another close battle between South Pasadena and San Marino wasn’t surprising to Chi. The last four games between the two schools have been decided by three points or less, with the Titans winning three of them while improving their overall series lead to 36-29-3.

“We didn’t expect anything less that that,” he said. “It has been a very competitive, emotionally charged game over the years. We told our guys we have to come out and be ready to go and be consistent play after play. We came up short of that. But now we have a chance to change things once we get into the playoffs.”