Football conquers La Cañada in dramatic homecoming game

Story by: Solana Singer

Staff Writer

Photo by: Samantha Shiroishi

Photgraphy Editor

South Pasadena football won a hard-earned victory over the La Cañada Spartans on Friday, Oct. 20 after spilling into overtime in this year’s exhilarating homecoming game.

“We found a way to make plays when we needed to,” Head Coach Jeff Chi said. “Speaking for our offense, I think they did a great job throughout the whole game. Our defense did well the first half, and then I think we let up a little bit… and then towards the end, I think we picked up again to make some key stops to seal the win.”

The special game, host to several celebratory proceedings, followed Friday’s Homecoming Picnic and heralded the homecoming dance on Saturday. Former football coach Ray Solari, for whom SPHS’s stadium is named, was honored in the pre-game ceremonies after passing away earlier this year. Escorted by their families, graduating football seniors were presented to the crowd before the game. Pep alumni rallied Tiger spirit in the home stands.

The first quarter began with South Pasadena receiving La Cañada’s kickoff. Junior wide receiver David Eisenberg gracefully collected the punt, passing to senior running back Devin Robinson. Robinson quickly made an elegant run, gaining 16 yards for the Tigers. After an injury timeout on the other team, senior running back Jason Hong completed a 22-yard run two minutes in. Senior running back Giovanni Cruz executed a six-yard rushing touchdown to put SPHS’s first points on the board, and senior punter Sawyer Fox scored the extra point for a total of 7-0 in South Pasadena’s favor.

Play continued as senior cornerback Luke Riffle began to showcase his defensive excellence. After forcing an incomplete Spartan pass with eight minutes left, Riffle almost pulled off an interception. Hong picked up the ball to carry it 12 yards down the field, helping the Tigers advance with each successive down. Following a fumbled Tiger pass, Fox punted the ball into the Spartans’ end zone for a touchback with five minutes remaining. South Pasadena ended the quarter defending from La Cañada.

The second quarter started slowly, with the Tigers stuck on defense and unable to take control of the ball. About two minutes in, Riffle executed a key tackle, ushering in more action. Fox made a tackle for loss, pushing the La Cañada offense back several yards. Senior defensive tackle Logan Ayala pulled through with a clean sack. The Spartans, left with a loss of four yards on the play, faltered in their offense. An incomplete pass turned possession over to the Tigers.

The Tigers, upon acquiring the ball, immediately took control of the field. With eight minutes left, Hong broke through with a 58-yard carry, propelling South Pasadena up to La Cañada’s seven-yard line. 15 seconds of play later, Hong somersaulted into the Spartans’ end zone to complete a seven-yard rushing touchdown. Fox successfully kicked the extra point to double the Tigers’ lead.

Fox kicked off to La Cañada. A minute later, the Tigers regained possession when Riffle expertly caught a punt from the opposing team. Hong rushed 15, then 20 yards forward to reach La Cañada’s 20-yard line. After a few minutes of the Spartans’ defense holding the Tigers back from advancing, Hong triumphantly fought his way to the end zone for a rushing touchdown of 14 yards. Once Fox scored the extra point, South Pasadena boasted a 21 to nothing lead on La Cañada.

Fox’s next kickoff led to a touchback, and Cruz made a polished tackle. With twenty seconds left, a Spartan player rushed 53 yards, carrying the team to the Tigers’ six-yard line. La Cañada made several consecutive attempts at passing touchdowns, each blocked by Eisenberg, with the help of senior cornerback Harrison Farley. With three seconds on the clock, it seemed that South Pasadena’s defensive line would be able to curb any La Cañada advances on scoring; however, in the final second of the quarter, the Spartans pulled off a passing touchdown. Their successful extra point left the scoreboard reading 21-7, with the Tigers still in the lead.

The 20-minute halftime show kept the home crowd entertained with performances from SPHS’s advanced dance, marching band, and colorguard. Following the formal introduction of South Pasadena’s 2023 Homecoming Court, this year’s Most Royal Tiger was announced to be senior Colin Wong. As the audience applauded, homecoming fireworks blossomed in the night sky.

The Tigers kicked off to the Spartans to initiate the second half. Picking up their offensive strategy, La Cañada scored a passing touchdown early in the quarter. To the dismay of the home crowd, the play was flagged, but ultimately allowed to stand. La Cañada’s extra point left the total tally at 21-14.

Senior cornerback Elijah Garcia made a smooth recovery of the ball upon receiving the Spartans’ punt. Hong executed a flagged long run; a personal foul called on the Tigers deducted 15 yards from their position. South Pasadena’s offense slipped, and an incomplete pass turned possession over to La Cañada. With four minutes left, the Spartans completed an elegant 61-yard pass for a touchdown, missing the extra point for a score of 21-20.

SPHS regained possession after the kickoff. Hong broke free of the opposing team’s defense to drive the ball to La Cañada’s 30-yard line. In multiple carries, Hong continued to push forward with twenty seconds left, but the quarter ended before the Tigers were able to score.

South Pasadena began the final quarter just yards away from La Cañada’s end zone. A false start penalty on the Spartans brought the Tigers’ offense even closer. After floating around the one-yard line for several minutes, obstructed by La Cañada’s defense, Hong was able to rush a touchdown. The Spartans blocked Fox’s extra point kick, leaving the score at 27-20.

La Cañada received the following kickoff to complete a long pass and run totaling 84 yards, pushing them forward to South Pasadena’s 9-yard line. So close to the end zone, Spartan offense quickly scored a touchdown, followed by a successful extra point.

The Tigers recovered the ball with nine minutes left. Hong broke through the opposing defense with a beautiful long run, but was injured and briefly removed from play. South Pasadena held the ball on La Cañada’s 33-yard line. With seven minutes on the clock, Eisenberg made a six-yard run. Hong, already back in play, carried the ball another seven yards forward. Inching closer to the opposing end zone with every down, the Tigers controlled the ball for two more minutes until the Spartans made a major interception, one of many that ultimately proved key to the game’s drama.

An excellent tackle by Riffle boosted morale in the home stands. SPHS continued to block La Cañada from advancing too far. With twenty seconds left on the clock, Eisenberg intercepted a La Cañada pass, gaining 19 yards on the return. Senior quarterback Liam Ohannesian passed to Robinson to secure nine more yards. The clock ticked down as the Tigers moved forward, ready to score. In the final second of the last quarter, La Cañada intercepted a pass and play ended at a tie of 27-27, the fate of the game to be decided in overtime.

South Pasadena, as the home team, was given the opportunity to score first. Hong promptly took charge, weaving through La Cañada’s defense as the crowd watched with bated breath. A few moments later, Hong rushed a five-yard touchdown, tumbling into the end zone to the joyful screams of the South Pasadena crowd. Fox kicked the extra point for a score of 34-27. 

La Cañada was next. In several plays, they set up for a touchdown. A soaring pass, poised to reach a Spartan player waiting in the end zone, quieted the stands. Jumping in front of the player, Riffle intercepted the throw and the home crowd exploded. The Tigers had won.

“It felt amazing,” Riffle said. “That’s probably my favorite moment I’ve played in football of all time . . . I’m just happy I made the play.”

South Pasadena’s win against La Cañada was crucial to qualifying for CIF. The team only faces one more league match before they advance to playoffs.

“We had some penalties but we fixed it, we ran the ball hard, defense came up when we needed to,” Hong said. “We just played a full team game.”

The Tigers will play their final league game at home against Pasadena Polytechnic at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27.

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