Written by Preston Sharkey and Noah Parker
Photos by Luke Quezada
South Pasadena Football was handed its first loss of the season on Friday, falling to the Santa Clarita Christian Cardinals, 24-14. The defeat marks the first loss in coach Jeff Chi’s tenure as the Tigers’ record moves to 1-1 on the year.
The South Pas offense was well prepared for the Santa Clarita defense, marching down the field on its first drive. Strong power running behind senior running back Jackson Totleben helped the Tigers pick up first downs and move the ball deep in to Cardinal territory. Senior Sidney Luna-Long finished off the drive with a one yard quarterback keeper.
Once again, the Tigers capitalized on their opponent’s turnovers early in the game, especially in the red zone. South Pas forced two turnovers in the first quarter and was led by senior linebacker Matthew Walker. Walker was all over the field, leading the defense with a fumble recovery and a diving interception off a tipped Santa Clarita pass inside the five yard line. The aggressive defense helped hold the Cardinals in check during the first half.
“At first the defense was fired up,” Walker said. “We were flowing from sideline to sideline, forcing the ball out, and creating turnovers.”
South Pasadena had their fair share of mistakes as well. Bad snaps left the Tigers with unmanagable third downs while poor punts gave the Cardinals good field position. Santa Clarita’s defensive line was pressuring the Tiger offensive line all night, ending the game with numerous sacks and a safety. The pressure in the pocket also forced Luna-Long to scramble and improvise to make plays. While he was able to gain a few extra yards on his runs, Luna-Long was injured in the final seconds of the first half as he was hit hard by a Santa Clarita defender. The hit resulted in a fumble, leaving the Tigers empty handed in the second quarter. Coach Chi expressed the importance of the turnovers, knowing how crucial each giveaway is to their chances of winning.
“That was a huge factor, we emphasize that we got to protect the ball,” Chi explained. “That’s something that we as a coaching staff has to do a better job to emphasize more, and practice more.”
The injury gave an opportunity to junior Justin Huff, who replaced Luna-Long at quarterback in the second half. Huff excelled in the role, leading a South Pas touchdown drive on their second half opening possesion. Excellent run blocking from the Tiger offensive line along with halftime adjustments helped open holes for senior running back Gavin Chi. Totleben finished off the drive with a fourth down touchdown run, breaking tackles on his way to the end zone.
South Pasadena’s lead was short lived however, as the Cardinals perfectly utilized a good kickoff return with a touchdown drive of their own. Sloppy tackling from the South Pas defense allowed for Santa Clarita to take a 17-14 lead on a long touchdown run.
A much improved second half Santa Clarita passing attack was able to find holes in the Tiger defense. Cardinal quarterback Blake Kirshner picked the tired Tiger defense apart with crisp, accurate passing.
“In the second half, their passing attack was working for them because our outside linebackers were tired from going both ways,” Walker added. “They were able to find the holes in our coverage.”
The final dagger came on a beautiful 60-yard touchdown pass from Kirshner to star receiver Caden Brenner. Brenner caught the pass in stride and cruised into the endzone, leaving the crowd in shock. The downfield shot was the last play of a balanced Santa Clarita offensive attack, in which the Cardinals employed a series of short passes and outside runs.
Following another Tiger turnover, the South Pas defense came up big with a goal line stand in the 4th quarter to give the offense one last chance. Backup quarterback Huff connected with senior wideout Danny Rios for a 30 yard gain, but it was too little and too late. Despite the 24-14 loss, Coach Chi expressed his satisfaction with his team’s effort.
“I’m proud of the fact that they come out here every day even in this extreme heat, they practice, work hard, and they come out and compete,” Chi said. “Sometimes when things go bad, when you’re behind on the scoreboard, it’s easy to just give up and quit. But I like that our team kept fighting until the very end.”
The Tigers will face the Duarte Falcons on Friday, September 8 in their last non-league game. Duarte is 1-1 on the season, after losing to Mary Star of the Sea this week.