Jeff Chi likes what he sees from his South Pasadena High football team, winners of four straight preseason games to open the season, yet the Tigers’ coach insists there’s still much work to be done as his club prepares for the league campaign in the weeks ahead.
“We’re trying to keep everything level headed,” said Chi, following his team’s most recent win, a 12-0 shutout over visiting Heritage Christian last Friday night. “Obviously being 4-0 you could be up in the clouds and happy about it, but we still want to be humble. We know that we still are making mistakes, and in order to be a good solid team we need to limit those. But at the same time, they are high school kids – 15, 16, 17, 18 years old and we really want them to enjoy the wins they have worked so hard for this season. There needs to be a real balance. Enjoy it – the process – have fun, but work on improving each and every week.”
It took South Pasadena’s best effort to get past Heritage Christian as both teams came into the game undefeated. The Tigers now look to go on the road Friday night at 7 p.m. to face Alhambra in their final non-league game of the season. Then the big test comes after a bye week on Thursday, September 29, when South Pasadena hosts perennial league favorite Monrovia to open the league campaign. From there, four more Rio Hondo League games feature Temple City at home on October 7, followed by three away contests to finish it off – October 14 at La Canada, October 21 at Pasadena Poly and October 28 at San Marino.
Not wanting to get ahead of themselves, the Tigers are focusing on getting past a 2-2 Alhambra team that is coming off a 44-9 loss to Franklin. The Moors opened the season losing to El Monte 13-12 before recording victories over Glendale (35-8) and Temple City (21-6).
“They are a good team, gutsy,” said Chi about South Pasadena’s next opponent. “We’re really going to have to focus and go after them. They have a freshman quarterback who has done a good job of distributing the ball to their receivers, and they have three running backs, who are carrying the ball quite well. We can’t lose focus at this point and time. We’d love to go 5-0 in preseason. And then to open up the league season we’ve got Monrovia. We’re going to make it as competitive as we can and see how tough we really are.”
Chi joked that it was a baseball-like score after two quarters against Heritage Christian, the Tigers taking a 5-0 lead on a 29-yard Aiden Kinney field goal and safety into the locker room. Jason Hong, South Pasadena’s go-to running back, carried 14 yards for the only touchdown on the night in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers drove the ball to the 1-yard line in the first half, were unable to get it across on fourth down, and on the next play when Heritage Christian took over got the safety.
Hong finished the night with 110 yards on 27 carries while teammate Matthew Takasugi picked up another 47 yards packing the ball 8 times.
“He loves football,” said Chi of the hard-charging Hong. “He enjoys being in the weight room, getting his body to a place where he can be physical. He loves the game, watches film constantly, prepares well and is just the ideal football player that you’d like to have more of on your team. He’s a student of the game. He loves to practice, loves to play. And he’s always happy, always smiling. You couldn’t ask for more as a coach.”
Further, Chi said he hopes Hong, 5-foot-10, 185, gets the opportunity to play at the next level once his high school playing days are over. “He’s short, stocky, muscular, like an English bulldog,” said the coach. “He’ll run you over.”
Bothered by an ankle injury in the first quarter, Tigers’ senior quarterback Jackson Freking threw the ball sparingly, only 13 times against the Warriors, completing 7 for just 28 yards, and had two picked off – the only interceptions he’s thrown all season.
“He had a hard time pushing off on his foot, preventing us from doing a lot of passing,” explained the coach. “That affected us real fast. That forced us to pretty much run the ball. But Jackson gutted it out and helped us enough so we could win. The interceptions are very uncharacteristic of him. Not being 100 percent healthy kind of hurt. We’re going to rest him up and he will be good to go come Friday (against Alhambra).”
Heritage Christian in Chi’s mind looked much better – and bigger – in person than on film, the Tigers’ coach pointing out the menacing play of the Warriors’ lineman Brendan Cho, a force on both sides of the both sides of the ball. “He was just a step above everybody else,” Chi said. “He looks like a future college player, for sure. He’s really good and had great speed. Very impressive.”
South Pasadena made some second half adjustments to neutralize Cho in an effort to slow him down, and it seemed to work out in the Tigers favor, but Chi said it wasn’t easy.
“That kid was really, really good,” he insisted.
The Tigers’ coach came away saying the victory “was a gutsy performance on both sides of the ball,” liking the fact that his defense held the Warriors to 117 yards, including 36 in the second half. “We stopped about 90 percent of the plays they ran. Our defense really didn’t let them get moving.”
South Pasadena has given up only 13 points through the first four games, with plenty of credit going to Tiger players and the coaching of defensive minded coach John Morant. “You know, as coaches, we’re so busy working on the game plan, preparing the team, making sure the players are doing the right things in order to win ball games, so we’re not always thinking that way, but yes, it’s pretty good when you think we’ve limited that few points this season.”
Four games, four wins, Chi is telling his team to “enjoy the victories, enjoy what you’ve accomplished, but there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of us. We’re still making mistakes and we’re going to try and clean them up for Alhambra. They always play us tough, are very physical, and it should be another good test for us.”