A big question remains as to who will be playing quarterback Thursday night when undefeated South Pasadena High lines up to face powerful Monrovia in the Rio Hondo League opener for both teams.
And it has nothing to do with the host Tigers.
Jackson Freking, South Pasadena’s top signal caller who sat out the Tigers’ most recent game, a 29-14 victory over Alhambra due to a bruised heel, will be under center, assured SPHS coach Jeff Chi.
Monrovia starting QB Brian Salazar didn’t suit up last Friday in the Wildcats’ 48-28 non-league loss to San Dimas, leaving speculation on whether an injury will prevent him from playing against the Tigers.
Chi is prepping his squad as if the 6-foot-3, 160-pound junior will be taking the snaps, saying: “I have a feeling they were probably saving him for our game.”
Freking guided South Pasadena’s offense despite suffering the foot injury early in the Tigers 12-0 victory over Heritage Christian in week four. He gave way to backup Richard Conti, who had a solid performance in the September 16 game against Alhambra in the final nonleague tune-up ahead of the Monrovia game.
“We have been resting Freking for well over a week now and he looks to be ready to go,” said Chi. “We’re excited to have him back.”
The Tigers come into the 7 p.m. contest with five straight wins, getting past Lincoln, Maywood, Marshall, Heritage Christian and Alhambra while Monrovia is 3-2, winning three straight to open the season against Bonita, Arcadia, and El Rancho before dropping a pair to Ayala and San Dimas. South Pasadena coaches, taking advantage of a bye week, witnessed the Wildcats’ loss last Friday to Saints.
Chi didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in the Wildcats’ performance, outside of the fact they fell short on the scoreboard. Monrovia, playing a tough schedule up to this point, is simply good with or without Salazar, who got hurt in the Ayala defeat.
The Tigers have designed a game plan for either Salazar or Carlos Hernandez, who played in his spot against San Dimas. Hernandez is also the Wildcats top receiver when he’s not the quarterback, making 21 catches on the season for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Division 1 colleges, according to Chi, are heavily recruiting the senior. Hernandez is just ahead of sophomore teammate Jaylen Moore, who has 19 receptions for 347 yards and six TDs.
Hernandez also carries the ball and has picked up 147 yards on just 12 carries for a 12.3-yard average. Monrovia’s big bruiser running back is Marcel Jones, who has rushed for 456 yards on 65 carries for a 7.0 average and difficult to bring down.
Before going out, Salazar had completed 52 of his 93 passes in four games for 987 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We’ve got a game plan for both their quarterbacks,” said Chi, “but the key is, we just have to be able to tackle these guys. They are very elusive and strong.”
And don’t forget big and fast, coach. “Every time Jones and Hernandez touch the ball it can lead to touchdowns,” noted Chi. “We have to be very consistent in team tackling – everybody on the ball at all times.”
Freking has thrown for 625 yards in the four games he’s played, completing 39 of his 66 passes and thrown six TDs. Conti impressed Tiger coaches in his debut against Alhambra, connecting on 5 of 9 for 93 yards. Chi said he’s confident in the senior’s ability to move the football with South Pasadena’s first unit should Freking not be able to play.
South Pasadena showcases a strong running attack of its own with junior Jason Hong leading the way with 413 yards on 85 carries and seven touchdowns in those five victories. Next up is senior Matthew Takasugi, who has 175 yards, packing the ball 29 times.
Conti leads the team in receptions with 17 for 364 yards and three touchdowns, followed by James Dowd with 9 for 142 and a pair of scores. Quinn Stirling has 11 catches for 111 yards.
While the statistics are impressive for both teams, it’s the final score that matters most for these two clubs, as the winner will be one step closer to a Rio Hondo League championship.
“We know it’s a huge game for us,” said Chi, knowing the Tigers are the underdog going in. “We have to be focused and ready to bring it on every play. We can’t let up at all. If we do they will score on us.”