SPHS Tigers Football | Team to Play La Canada Friday Night

Tigers go on the road Friday to face La Cañada.

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | South Pasadenan.com News | Tigers have a Homecoming triumph over the Rams.

If South Pasadena High hopes to wrap up second place in Rio Hondo League play, the Tigers know they’ll have to get past one team standing in their way to make that happen.

In a key matchup, the Tigers go on the road Friday to face La Cañada, playing well and coming off a near huge upset in its last outing.

With unbeaten Monrovia (5-2, 2-0), expected to run the table against league opponents and reclaim the title, the Tigers and Spartans, falling short of beating the Wildcats in a dramatic finish, are in prime position to lock up the runner-up spot.

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South Pasadena, coming off a 56-0 win over visiting Temple City last Friday, enters the 7 p.m. contest with a lofty 6-1 mark, 1-1 in league, while La Cañada is 4-3, 1-1, both squads believing they can finish off the regular season with three straight victories and lock up second or even first should the Wildcats stumble down the stretch, which is unlikely.

After facing the Spartans, the Tigers conclude the regular season by taking on Pasadena Poly in a game on Thursday, October 20, under the lights at the Los Angeles Coliseum, followed by a trip to San Marino on Friday, October 28, to face their rival.

La Canada, fighting off the difficult loss to Monrovia, also has its eyes on second, hoping a win over South Pasadena will be enough. The Spartans go to Temple City (2-5, 0-2) and host Pasadena Poly (1-5, 1-1) in their final two games after facing the Tigers.

Monrovia doesn’t appear to have much in its way as the Wildcats close out at Pasadena Poly, and with home games against San Marino and Temple City ahead of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs starting in November. The top three teams in league move onto the postseason.

“This is a huge week for us,” said South Pasadena High Coach Jeff Chi, focused on what it will take to upend La Cañada. “Our guys are healthy, ready to go and peaking at the right time for this game.”

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | South Pasadenan.com News | Tigers have a Homecoming triumph over the Rams.

South Pasadena’s backup players were given plenty of action as the Tigers had little trouble putting away Temple City. In the traditional homecoming contest, South Pasadena jumped out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter, added 28 points in the second for a 49-0 halftime advantage before scoring seven more in the fourth period. A running clock in the second half ended it quickly.

Justin Hong, the Tigers’ power back, had another solid outing in a limited role, rushing for 70 yards on nine carries and four touchdowns of 3, 9, 11, and 3 yards all in the first two quarters. Alessandro Jemai added a TD, a 2-yarder on the ground for South Pasadena. Defensive end Mitchell Westlake also scored, picking up a fumble for the Tigers and taking it in from 35 yards out. On the play, James Dowd brought down the Rams’ quarterback, the ball popping up and falling into the hands of Westlake, who grabbed it and rumbled the distance for the score.

“Hong had another solid performance,” said Chi of his standout running back, who was purposely held out for half the game. “We didn’t want him to get too banged up before the La Cañada game. He got enough work done ahead of our next one.”

That next game will also feature one of the league’s best in La Cañada’s Corey Cheung, among the leading rushers in the area. Hong comes into the contest with 621 yards on 116 carries and 12 touchdowns over the first seven games while Cheung has 976 yards, packing the ball 135 times and 14 touchdowns to his credit.

“It’s going to be a battle of the running backs,” said Chi. “It’s also going to be a battle of the offensive linemen. I think it will be a very physical game.”

Tigers’ quarterback Jackson Freking, who wasn’t asked to put the ball in the air much against Temple City, connected on 5 of 11 for 100 yards and threw two touchdowns, one to Richard Conti for 19 yards and the other to Quinn Stirling for 17.

“We wanted to keep our starters fresh for La Cañada by playing some of our younger guys and giving them some experience,” Chi explained, recognizing his squad could have lit up the scoreboard with a lot more points. “We’ve been on the other end of lopsided games like that so it’s important to show good sportsmanship.”

Like South Pasadena, the Spartans had their chances last week against Monrovia before coming up short 42-35. Monrovia clung to a 21-17 lead at the half, trailed the Spartans 24-17 after three quarters before outscoring La Cañada 21-11 in the final period.

The game was tied with just over a minute left, after a Spartan touchdown and successful two-point conversion. In a wild ending, the Wildcats’ Carlos Hernandez returned a 95-yard kickoff return for a Monrovia TD. With time still left on the clock, La Cañada moved the ball down field before an interception sealed the Wildcats’ victory.

“We knew coming into the season that they were going to be the second best team we’d be facing besides Monrovia,” said Chi of the Spartans. “La Cañada had their opportunities kind of like we did.”

PHOTO: Henk Friezer | South Pasadenan.com News | Tigers have a Homecoming triumph over the Rams.

The Tigers’ coach says his team’s strength is on the defensive side of the ball, saying: “We haven’t let up a lot of points. I know La Cañada has the ability to move the ball, and can score points. If we can slow them down, control their running game, I think we have a great shot at beating those guys.”

On offense, he likes what he sees from his offensive line, which is creating running lanes for Hong and others. “Getting those guys going is the key,” the coach added. “If we’re successful there, it’ll open up our passing game.”

Chi has got what he calls a “very coachable group,” he said, praising the play of his team. “We don’t have disciplinary problems, issues or waste time with nonsense. We’re out there coaching the guys and trying to get them better every game.”

And it seems the long hours on the field practicing, in the weight room lifting and film room studying opponents is paying off.

Picking up six wins against a lone loss to the league’s best in Monrovia is not by accident. “Our guys are very responsive and working hard,” Chi added. “That’s what I appreciate about them. They’re working hard and it’s fun to coach them.”

A large South Pasadena crowd enjoyed not only the Tigers’ big win last week, but along with homecoming festivities, it was also Senior Night, which recognized players taking part in their final home game of the regular season.

At halftime as part of homecoming, the Royal Tiger Court was presented with senior Tyra Williams being announced this year’s Most Royal Tiger, followed by a massive fireworks show.

In addition, the night included a special tribute to the late Tom Ashby, former girls’ soccer coach at SPHS, an AYSO coach and referee, and later a Region 214 Commissioner.

His hard work, dedication and commitment to making South Pasadena High’s girls’ soccer program one of the best in the region, paid off handsomely as Ashby was inducted into the Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame.

On Friday nights, nothing got in the way of Ashby heading over to Ray Solari Stadium, sitting with his longtime pals, and witnessing countless South Pasadena High football games.

“I knew Tom for years and years,” said Chi. “He was a huge supporter of our program and a fixture of South Pasadena. It was a nice thing they did to recognize him. He was a great man.”