South Pasadena High came back from an eight-point fourth quarter deficit and kicked a 35-yard winning field goal with time running out to pick up their second straight Rio Hondo League victory Thursday night, beating La Cañada at home narrowly 23-22.
South Pasadena High waited seven games to kick its first field goal of the season but it was a big one Thursday night as the Tigers made it in thrilling fashion and came away with a narrow 23-22 victory over visiting La Cañada.
Aidan Kinney, a junior, also pitted against one of the Spartans top athletes most of the night as part of South Pasadena’s defensive backfield, was asked to put South Pasadena ahead with 1:30 left in the game with his foot, and he did, booting a 35-yarder, sending the ball straight through the uprights as the Tigers’ jubilant sideline and home crowd erupted, going wild.
Among those caught up in the emotion was South Pasadena High coach Jeff Chi, whose club has weathered through an up-and-down season, and finally has its first winning record with three regular games left on the schedule.
“He just nailed it and looked like a veteran kicker out there,” said Chi after watching Kinney come up with the biggest kick of the Tigers season. “Right down the middle, plenty to spare. It looked great!”
For the moment, South Pasadena is out front in the Rio Hondo League standings with a 2-0 record, improving to 4-3 overall with the victory. Suffering the loss, the Spartans are still in search of their first league win, dropping to 0-2, 4-3 overall.
The Tigers look to keep their three game winning-streak alive when they host Pasadena Poly, a new addition to league play, next Friday, October 15, before rival San Marino comes to town October 22, then winding up the regular season by traveling to Monrovia a week later, October 28.
“Obviously, I’m proud of the kids,” said Chi in the aftermath of the win over the Spartans. “It was a nail-biter all the way,” We came out in the first quarter on offense and scored right off the bat. La Cañada fought back, got us on our heels a little bit in the second half, and we fell behind. We kept going back and forth, back and forth until the end of it. I’m just glad we were fortunate to win it.”
South Pasadena held onto a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, went in front 14-6 at the half before La Cañada tied it 14-14 going into the fourth period. The Spartans took a 22-14 advantage in the final quarter before South Pasadena climbed back with its final touchdown, but missing a chance to tie on a two-point conversion. Trailing 22-20 and the clock ticking down, it set the stage for Kinney and the Tigers’ final heroics.
What proved to be the game winner was helped by a blocked La Cañada field goal, the Tigers taking the ball down field and ultimately getting into position to kick it at the end and come away with the win. The Spartans had one last chance to score after Kinney’s field goal but time ran out.
“Obviously, I’m proud of the kids,” said Chi. “It was a huge victory for us.”
South Pasadena quarterback Noah Aragon scored on a 17-yard run and found Nick Eshom on a 9-yard TD pass while Alex Gonzalez went two yards on the ground for the Tigers final touchdown. Kinney did the rest with his foot, rounding out the Tigers scoring.
It wasn’t long after the game before Chi had other thoughts on his mind – starting to come up with a game plan for his team’s next opponent, Pasadena Poly. “I told the kids to enjoy the win tonight, but come tomorrow we’re going to learn from what’s on the film (from the La Cañada game) and get ready for a tough game against those guys,” he said.
Pasadena Poly and Monrovia, a pair of unbeaten teams in league, were scheduled to meet Friday night and Chi was planning on going to the contest to scout both clubs.
“It’s going to be a big game against Poly, they’re playing well,” said Chi. “They’re very disciplined, well coached. They’re going to give us a fight. We just have to fight back and respond. I think it’s going to be another close game.”
Meeting with his team after Thursday’s victory, Chi said they showed a lot of character in battling back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to come out on top, saying: “It looked bleak at one moment, but they kept fighting, stayed in there and never gave up. It was amazing showmanship of our kids.”
The Spartans played much better in week two of the league campaign after getting soundly beaten 60-15 by Monrovia in the opener. “I think the feeling among most teams in the league is that Monrovia is going to be the team to beat, and once they’re done with Monrovia they’re looking at everybody else with a chance to take second place,” Chi explained.
He figures his team needs at least one more win down the stretch to secure a spot in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. The top three teams move onto the postseason.
“Everything is lined up nicely for us,” Chi said. “Now we just have to do our part in preparing our kids to compete against Pasadena Poly.”
Not before, perhaps, allowing himself an opportunity to savor Kinney’s winning field goal, one that will be remembered as one of the biggest in South Pasadena High football history, a bit longer.
“It was a big one, yes,” said the smiling coach. “He came out for the team this summer. He’s mainly a soccer guy, pretty amazing in the sport I’m told. He just decided to come out and play a little football last summer, slowly started practicing with the team and just got better and better.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Kinney was keying on the Spartans’ Corey Cheung throughout the contest, and “did a great job,” according to Chi. “Kinney is more than a kicker for us,” he said. “He’s only going to improve as he gets more experience.”
At the end of the night, Chi was glad his team was on the winning end and, at least for now, is undefeated in league play.
“It was a gutsy victory,” he said. “Our guys showed a lot of character we’re pleased to be part of and representing.”