Johnny Xiao heard the friendly ribbing from his teammates when the football seemed like a brick as he struggled to hang on to it during summer drills in preparation for South Pasadena High’s 2018 football season.
“He’s not known for having great hands,” said Tigers’ coach Jeff Chi following South Pasadena’s 29-14 nonleague loss to visiting Alhambra Friday night. “All summer long there were running jokes about him not catching the ball, and every time he does we get excited.”
His teammates were plenty excited after Xiao intercepted an Alhambra pass with just over eight minutes left in the second quarter and ran the ball 34 yards down the left side for a South Pasadena High touchdown, knotting the score at 7-7.
The TD came just three minutes after the Moors had taken the lead at the 11:13 mark of the first period, going 90 yards in 14 plays following a Tigers’ fumble inside the Alhambra 10-yard line. Moors’ running back Anthony Herrera finished off the lengthy drive, going the final three yards for the score.
Alhambra wasted little time getting back in the end zone, taking the ball from South Pasadena’s 41-yard line and moving it swiftly down field in seven plays as Herrera scored for the second time from the two. He also packed the ball up the middle for a 2-point conversion, giving the Moors a 15-7 advantage with 6:18 to go in second period.
The Moors moved out to a 22-7 lead on their first drive of the third quarter, running back Kody Chuang finding plenty of room to roam as he galloped 58 yards for the score at the 10:26 mark.
During halftime, Tiger players learned that starting quarterback Samuel Luna-Long was lost for the remainder of the game after suffering a left shoulder injury on the first play of the second quarter. Luna-Long played through the pain throughout the period before giving way to backup Jaden Gallego at the start of the second half. It marks the second time Luna-Long has been out after suffering a slight concussion three weeks ago and missing one game. Fighting off a heavy rush from Alhambra, Gallego struggled to hit his receivers as the Tigers battled to make a second half comeback. South Pasadena picked up sizeable chunks of yardage on the ground, mostly behind Ethan Hong who had 59 yards on 13 carries, but it wasn’t enough against the Moors solid defensive front.
Alhambra kept putting points on the board, building a 29-7 lead with 6:07 left in the third quarter when Alhambra quarterback Noah Rodriquez hit Chuang on a 12-yard scoring pass. The lead became insurmountable for South Pasadena.
“We never quit and kept playing hard despite being down (by a large margin),” said Chi. “I like how we kept battling.”
The Tigers’ home crowd had reason to roar late in the third quarter after Alhambra fumbled at its own 40. Estrada picked up the loose ball and ran it down to the Moors’ three before he coughed it up, but Xiao, the same guy who is a targeted by teammates for not being able to handle the ball, was there to fall on it, putting the Tigers into scoring position. Three plays later, Gallego finished off the 3-yard drive by going the final yard up the middle behind a big push from his offensive line.
That ended the scoring for the Tigers who can now look to Friday night and a game on the road against another powerful opponent. “We have to learn from our mistakes and improve on it,” said Chi in the aftermath of the loss. “I think we can do a lot better.”
Undefeated Eagle Rock, playing out of the L.A. City League, has won four straight, beating Southgate 50-14, Arleta 50-14, Bell 29-6 and Fairfax 37-20.
After a season opening 35-14 victory over Mountain View, South Pasadena, now 2-3, fell 59-6 to El Monte, handed Eastside a 7-6 loss, dropped a 52-7 contest to Arroyo before Friday’s 15-point setback to Alhambra. Chi is all in favor of ending his club’s two game skid.
“I’d like to bounce back and play better against Eagle Rock,” he said. “Overall, we had some good plays against a pretty good Alhambra team. Defensively, Sometimes we looked great and sometimes we looked out of place. We just have to keep working and get better. Hopefully, we will.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers visitors from the south just keep on piling on the victories. “We played fairly well defensively,” said Moors coach Chris Crockett. “We didn’t give up any big plays. We turned the ball over a couple of times, but got some take-aways. We gave them really good field position on there two scores and I think that was the difference. Overall, I our guys played pretty well.”
Doesn’t hurt to be 5-0. “Feel’s great,” said a smiling Crockett.