FOOTBALL FRIDAY | Tigers Try to Stay Unbeaten

South Pasadena High travels to El Monte Friday night at 7 p.m. in search of its second win.

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | | South Pasadena High football coach Jeff Chi talks to his players following a practice earlier this week. The Tigers face El Monte at 7 p.m. on the road Friday in search of their second victory.

It was suggested, if he could break the rules, that South Pasadena High coach Jeff Chi play all 35 of his players on defense Friday night in an effort to stop El Monte’s vaunted offensive running game.

Chi is all for it.

“We’d love to put all of our team on the field on defense,” he said, laughing. “We’re trying to come up with a scheme, knowing it’s going to be a real physical battle. Hopefully, we’ll find a solution.”

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El Monte, coming off a lopsided 61-30 victory over Baldwin Park in its season opener last week, has “an awesome running game,” said Chi, talking about the Tigers’ next opponent which passed the ball only once – an incompletion – in the game. “They live and die with the running game.”

The Lions amassed more than 500 yards on the ground against the Braves with Davon Booth doing the bulk of the work, gaining 310 yards on 12 carries while scoring five touchdowns on the night. Teammate Abel Ochoa Jauregui added 78 yards, packing the ball four times and Ben Osley added 53 more on 10 carries. El Monte picked up big yardage in chunks, gaining 40 yards on several plays in the contest.

“They have strong offensive tackles who make big holes for their running backs,” explained Chi, noting the Lions’ offensive front is as good as it gets.

Watching film this week on Booth in preparation for Friday’s 7 p.m. road game, Chi said the 5-8, 160-pound junior is “very patient behind his blockers and when he finds the hole he just takes off.”

Adding Jauregui and Owsley to the mix will put the Tigers’ defense to the test. “From what we see on film, they’re a very, very good team,” said the Tigers’ coach. “It’s going to be tough to stop them on the ground.”

South Pasadena hopes to counter with its ability to strike fast through the air as demonstrated in its 35-14 non-league victory over Mountain View at home last Friday night. “I think our offense can move the ball on those guys,” said Chi. “It might be one of those games where you trade touchdown after touchdown, the team with the ball last winning.”

Stepping up big time last week for the Tigers was junior quarterback Samuel Luna-Long, who completed 4 of 9 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns against Mountain View. He also scored on a 5-yard run. His performance was marred only by a first half interception.

“I was feeling a little first game jitters,” admitted Luna-Long, “but after the pick I settled in and threw a couple of touchdowns in the second half.”

On the receiving end of all three of Luna-Long’s scoring tosses was junior Ivan Estrada, who also had a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Luna-Long likes what he sees from his teammates as Friday night’s game approaches.

“We’ve had a pretty good week of practice,” he said. “We’ve worked a lot trying to mimic the other team’s offense, trying to figure out what we can do to stop them.”

Chi, who has been coaching football at the high school level for about 28 years, likes the idea of getting off to a 1-0 start. He is treating the preseason as an opportunity to improve each week in time for the league campaign, which rolls out Oct. 28 against rival San Marino.

“We’d like to win in league,” said Chi, who guided the Tigers to a 5-5 record a year ago. “That’s our goal.”

With El Monte focusing mainly on the ground, the Tigers’ coach stressed it’s going to take a masterful job on defense to slow down the Lions’ powerful running game.

Tongue-in-cheek, Luna-Long also agrees stacking the defensive line with South Pasadena’s entire roster in order to stop the lions from scoring is the best way to go.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I wish we could.”