By Ryan Nakamura
Photos by Matt Scholtz
The varsity football team capped off the 2016 season with a loss to the Aquinas Falcons, away, in the first round of CIF by a final score of 35-10 last Friday, November 11. Despite the early elimination, South Pas successfully made a second consecutive trip to the playoffs after posting a 7-4 overall record, along with a 3-2 league record.
South Pas kicked off the start of the game with the Tigers setting a dynamic tempo. After senior quarterback Adam Arellano kept the ball for a 17 yard first down, South Pas seemed intent on scoring on its first drive. This was cut short after Aquinas intercepted the ball at its own 49 yard line. Falcons quarterback Salieu Ceesay instantly made an impact on offense in the form of an effective passing and running game. With a playing style similar to pro quarterback Cam Newton, Ceesay helped the Falcons reach the end zone in a mixture of a ground game and an air attack. Aquinas capitalized on its momentum, with the Falcons’ running back exploding for a 30 yard gallop to the Tigers’ two yard line, leading to a touchdown.
With South Pas back on offense, the Tigers found no open gaps on the ground or in the passing game, forcing them to punt the ball from inside their own red zone. Riding high off of their first touchdown, the Falcons repeated this in a mere four snaps of the ball, with Falcons running back Branden Rankins tallying his second touchdown of the game for a first quarter score of 14-0.
South Pas found some traction under the running of senior captain Jalen Ross. Ross continued to be the Tigers’ main offensive weapon throughout the second quarter, helping South Pas convert two first downs en route to the Falcons, along with a 36 yard dash to the Falcons’ red zone. Junior fullback Fernando Sornoso muscled in the last two yards to the goal to give the Tigers their first postseason touchdown in over a decade. South Pas took advantage of this change in momentum, forcing a three and out against the Falcons, and regained possession of the ball. Ross continued to lead the team in all purpose yards after helping gain another first down off of a pass from Arellano. This would be ruled back after a holding call dissolved the team’s momentum on offense to force a punt by South Pas. In return, Aquinas made its way into the Tigers’ end zone after a questionable face mask call set the Falcons up at the 13 yard line, and a later run in by Rankins made for a score of 21-7.
Ross continued to push the Tigers offense down the field after putting the ball at the Falcons 38 yard line. A penalty on the home team put the Tigers in great position to score at the 22 yard line. The following play, Ross suffered a knee injury and was carted off the field, unable to come back into the game. The Tigers offense would falter without Ross in the backfield, and instead opted for a 29 yard field goal from sophomore kicker Justin Huff to make the score 21-10. Heading into halftime, South Pas suffered another setback once learning that Arellano suffered a concussion earlier in the second quarter, leaving the Tigers to put junior Sidney Luna-Long in at quarterback.
Coming back in the second half, the Tigers would suffer another injury after senior linebacker Stone Franco was diagnosed with a concussion after taking a hit in the game.
South Pas continued to cause trouble for the Falcons throughout the drive, until junior defensive end Sebastian Centrone-Castro forced a fumble and recovered it at the Tigers 36 yard line. After getting pinned to their own end zone, Luna-Long attempted to run the ball but went head to head on the play, forcing him to be checked on by the athletic trainer after hitting the ground. The Tigers would falter on the drive and punt away to the Falcons. Aquinas fired back on the board with a dominant passing game to reach the Tigers’ six yard line and score another touchdown for a score of 28-10. The Tiger offense struggled to make any stride for the rest of the night, with J. Huff now in at quarterback. Although Huff managed to help South Pas reach the 33 yard line, the following play was picked off to the house for the fifth and final touchdown of the night. From here, both sides would make little gains on offense, with the drive ending in a punt for a final score of 35-10.
South Pas came into the game with an injury-riddled roster, with four linemen injured in past games, resulting in position changes for many of the active players. Perhaps the worst news of the night came when Ross and Arellano were both injured in the first half. Despite this, the Tigers’ 20 plus senior roster ends the season with the satisfaction of making the playoffs for the second consecutive year in more than a decade. The end of football marks the end of all fall athletics, marking the beginning of winter sports for South Pasadena.