Story by Solana Singer
Photo by Samantha Shiroishi
On Friday, Aug. 18, crowds packed both the home and away bleachers at the Ray Solari Stadium in anticipation of the first varsity football game of the season. The marching band performed from their catalog of enthusiastic numbers as the PEP Squad danced their support for SPHS. From seniors awaiting an explosive start to their final season, to freshmen hoping to connect with high school culture, Tigers filled the home stands with black paint smeared under their eyes. The Schurr Spartans, sporting green and white, warmed up on the other side of the field.
From the start, the Tigers demonstrated the strength of their offense. Within the first 10 minutes, SPHS was already controlling the scoreboard with a touchdown made by senior running back Jason Hong. The quarter clock ticked down as the Tigers continued to dominate on the field. Before long, junior running back David Ortega rushed for a touchdown of two yards, leaving four minutes to go. At the end of the quarter, with a 24-yard return and with under a minute left, senior defensive end Whitman Brida blocked a punt by Schurr to score SPHS’s third touchdown. Senior punter Sawyer Fox scored the first two out of three extra points to give South Pas a 20-to-nothing lead by the end of quarter one.
Eight minutes into the second quarter, senior quarterback Liam Ohannesian was removed from play for an injury and replaced by junior Zachary Lee, the team’s starting quarterback. The Tigers were going strong, consistently blocking the Spartans from reaching their end zone. With five and a half minutes left, senior running back Damian Flores and junior tight end James Dowd combined for a sack. A minute and a half later, Lee landed a 42-yard pass to senior wide receiver Elijah Garcia. With two minutes to go, junior wide receiver David Eisenberg intercepted a Schurr pass. As the quarter ended, Ohannesian returned to the game with a taped foot.
At halftime, it was already dark. The frosty lights of the stadium illuminated the faces of marching band as they performed their halftime show. While the Spartans stretched their legs, the SPHS PEP Squad carried a Tiger spirit poster onto the field. Amid cheers from the home crowd, the Tigers charged through the poster as they prepared for the next half.
Early into the third quarter, Dowd got injured and was taken out of play. Things quickly started to unravel; with each successive down, the Spartans crept closer and closer toward the Tigers’ end zone. With five minutes left in the quarter, Schurr rushed two yards and scored their first touchdown, as well as making the extra point for a total score of 20-7. The Tigers’ offense responded with a smooth, long run by Hong into Spartan territory. Although an elegant play, this led nowhere. Two minutes later, Fox made a powerful punt, but this too was futile in advancing the score.
Excitement ran high as the final quarter began. At the eight-minute mark, Hong completed a 31-yard rush for SPHS’s fourth touchdown of the night. Fox came in reliably with the extra point, leaving the scoreboard at 27-7. It seemed that the Tigers were cruising toward an imminent win, until Dowd was taken out of the game due to a second injury with six and a half minutes left on the clock. 30 seconds later, Schurr completed a 49-yard pass for a touchdown, followed by an extra point, to grow their 7-14. At three and a half minutes left, they added to their drive with a two point safety, bumping up their score again to 16. With two minutes to go, the Spartans made a five-yard pass for yet another touchdown and a final score of 22, followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion. The clock ran with no more action on either side, allowing SPHS to win with a final score of 27-22.
“I think we had a pretty strong start at the beginning, but we kind of let up a little bit from the fatigue…and that allowed the other team to kind of catch up and made it a little bit more exciting at the end,” Head Coach Jeff Chi said after the game. “We had a lot of different athletes contribute tonight to the success of our offense…and obviously our running back did a great job at the end of the game for getting first downs and just moving the ball, keeping the ball in our hands, and that solidified our win.”
The last quarter, despite being dragged out by several timeouts and flagged false starts, was definitely the most dramatic, with multiple excellent plays by each team. The Tigers gave up their 20 point cushion in the second half, but this only made the game more compelling.
“We didn’t play our best for sure, but we still won, so, you know, it’s time to move on to next week,” Dowd said. “I’m hyped for the rest of the season; we’re [going to] be good.”
The Tigers will play the Maywood Wolves on Thursday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. at home.