Stop the run.
Sounds simple enough, but South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi knows his team will be faced with a difficult task Friday night in making that happen as the Tigers prepare to hit the road to face winless Eastside in Lancaster.
South Pasadena will be looking for its third straight win of the 2019 campaign.
Eastside’s quarterback a year ago “was very agile and athletic,” said Chi, “and the lower level quarterback was pretty much the same, and so this year they’re both in the [offensive] backfield [for Eastside].”
That means double trouble for South Pasadena in trying to stop the Howard & Johnson show.
The Lion’s snap the ball to the quarterback “but technically he’s a running back with a lot speed,” Chi explained, talking about Semaj Howard, who has the ability to run the ball effectively inside, finding creases in the middle of the line, and outside, bouncing out of plugged holes and racing to the right or left sideline, looking for daylight down field.
He does it so quickly and efficiently that teams struggle to bring him down.
“He’s made some pretty athletic moves based on what we see on the films,” said Chi, scouting Eastside. “He’s a big concern. It’s very difficult to contain him.”
Howard teams with Omarion Johnson in the backfield and between them they bring plenty of firepower to the Lions’ offense.
In Eastside’s two losses to open the season –Bernstein (28-8) and Nordoff (56-0) –Howard & Johnson have dominated play when Eastside has the ball.
“They’re both getting the ball and running – running fast,” Chi emphasized, “and they’re athletic, so we have to contain them inside the box and not let them get outside where they both have a lot speed.”
In what he’s seen on film, the Lions throw only about five times per game – maybe.
“They’re going to be running the ball a majority of the time,” said the coach. “We’ll just see how it goes Friday night to see if we can contain their speed and athleticism. We’ve been telling our guys to not underestimate their one-dimensional offense. The quarterback [Howard] is a really good athlete, so we’re really going to have to give our best effort. We have to make tackles. He’s a pretty solid kid.”
To remain undefeated after victories over Mountain View (53-13) and Viewpoint (21-17) – the latter a comeback win in the final minutes of last Friday’s game – nothing easy is expected to come South Pasadena’s way, starting with the bus ride just to get to Lancaster.
The Tigers plan to leave the South Pasadena High campus on Friday around 3 p.m., allowing plenty of time to make the 75-mile one-way trip.
“It’s going to be about an hour and a half, two hours,” said Chi. “Some of the kids enjoy it. They like a road trip and think its fun, so we’ll make the best of it.”
“Gutsy” is the word he likes to use in describing his team’s play in last week’s come-from-behind victory over Viewpoint at home. The Tigers were down 14-0 at one point and 17-14 before battling back late in the game to come out on top.
“They kept fighting and fighting and little by little came back to win,” said Chi. “I was very proud of that. No matter what happens in the future, whether we’re ahead or behind, we’re always going to be in the game.”
Cutting down on penalties is another topic of concern in daily briefings with his players.
“That’s definitely frustrating,” said Chi, about the stoppage on the field. “There were a lot of flags that we felt we should have gotten from them, but didn’t get the calls, but at the same time, we always tell our kids, ‘We can’t worry about things we can’t control.’ We’re not going to argue with the referees. We’re not going to ask for anything. We’re just going to keep fighting. Luckily, for us last week it paid off and we won.”
The competition for the Tigers only gets tougher as the season progresses through the non-league season, heading into Rio Hondo League play.
Following Friday’s contest, South Pasadena has a bye next week, travels to play Alhambra on September 20 before coming home at the end of the month to host Bassett of La Puente on September 27 and Pasadena Poly on October 4. League play opens October 11 with the Tigers hosting San Marino, followed by travel dates to Monrovia (October 18) and Temple City (October 25) and back home November 1 to face La Canada. All kickoffs are set for 7 p.m.
Many on the squad are contributing to the early success of the Tigers. Running back Ivan Estrada has racked up big yardage through the air to go along with four touchdowns in the pair of wins. Ethan Hong had a huge 9-yard run in last week’s win over Viewpoint, setting up 1-yard touchdown. The play of running backs Quentin Pithey, Brian Zepeda and Raymond Gomez; quarterback Samuel Luna-Long and receivers Terrance Sweetman and Jonathan Stride have all been instrumental to the solid start.
“We’ve got kids who are making big plays in tough situations,” said Chi.
The Tigers are also getting solid play out of their offensive line and the defense is clamping down in key situations.
“They’re all talented enough to make something happen,” said the coach. “It’s all around, everyone helping, which is good for us.”
And bad for Eastside this week.
“You never want to underestimate anyone,” said Chi, looking ahead to Friday’s kickoff against Eastside, which carries only 20 players on its roster. “You never want to guarantee anything because, you never know. That’s why we play the game. We’ll go in with a good game plan, have a good week of practice, make sure the players are focused, then just wish for the best.”