Story by: Solana Singer
Photo by: Samantha Shiroishi
South Pasadena football defeated the Pasadena Polytechnic Panthers 51-28 at home on Friday, Oct. 27.
“This is the first league championship in 46 years since 1976,” Head Coach Jeff Chi said. “So that’s pretty amazing and special for these kids to be part of. And hopefully they get to enjoy it and just really cherish the moments that they have… it’s something that they’ll be talking about for the rest of their lives.”
The game started with Poly kicking off to South Pasadena. 20 seconds in, senior running back Devin Robinson came in with a carry to drive the Tigers closer to a score. Senior running back Jason Hong followed suit, running the ball all the way down to the Panthers’ six-yard line. Hong quickly rushed the remaining six yards for the first touchdown of the night. Senior punter Sawyer Fox kicked the extra point, lifting SPHS to a seven-point lead.
Fox’s kickoff launched the ball to the end zone for an automatic touchback; Poly received. After an incomplete pass and several Panther plays gaining little ground, the Tigers took over possession on downs. Hong rushed the ball to Poly’s 30-yard line, then crashed through their defense with eight minutes left for a second touchdown. Fox scored the extra point, raising South Pasadena’s edge by seven more points.
The Panthers took possession again. Tiger defense stepped up, making key tackles and forcing incomplete passes. After Poly suffered a false start penalty, South Pasadena recovered the ball. A clean 25-yard pass from junior quarterback Zachary Lee to Robinson orchestrated a Tiger passing touchdown. With six minutes left, Fox scored the extra point for a score of 21-0.
Poly regained possession after the kickoff. With four minutes left, junior outside linebacker David Ortega made a pivotal tackle, swinging a Panther to the ground. With a player stationed at the corner of South Pasadena’s end zone, Poly attempted to execute a passing touchdown. Senior cornerback Isaiah Hyun blocked the play. The Panthers tried for another passing touchdown, but fumbled; the Tigers took possession on downs with a minute left. A short carry by Hong and an incomplete SPHS pass ended the quarter.
The second quarter’s action started when junior wide receiver David Eisenberg made a clean run, bringing the Tigers up to the Panthers’ 45-yard line. After receiving a long pass from senior quarterback Liam Ohannesian, Robinson gained several more yards. Ohannesian passed to senior wide receiver Elijah Garcia, who tumbled over the sideline to finish a nice run. Hong rushed the ball to inside Poly’s five-yard line, setting South Pasadena up for a score. With eight minutes left, Hong rushed the final two yards to score SPHS’s fourth touchdown of the game. Fox kicked the extra point, and the scoreboard glowed 28-0.
The Tigers were on defense again. The crack of helmets sounded as senior defensive end Whitman Brida collided with a rushing Panther. Eisenberg slammed a Poly throw to the ground, forcing an incomplete pass. The Panthers punted from their end zone, but Ortega threw himself in the kick’s path to drop the ball to the ground. Brida dove for it and returned the blocked punt for a Tiger touchdown. Fox’s successful extra point brought the score up to 35-0.
South Pasadena kicked off to Poly. Sophomore cornerback Trey Freking flipped a rushing Poly player onto the ground. An excellent pass by the Panthers advanced them many yards down the field, approaching the Tigers’ end zone. After a crucial tackle by Ortega, senior cornerback Harrison Farley stepped in to defend a rush. Poly just barely made it past him, putting their first points onto the board. After the Panthers scored the extra point, the scoreboard read 35-7.
Hong tried valiantly to break free of Poly defense in the final minute of the quarter. A few seconds later, Garcia made a first down catch. Nearing the Panthers’ end zone, Fox punted and split the uprights, scoring a field goal with thirty seconds left to leave the score at 38-7. A lengthy run by Poly on their punt return was blocked by Fox, who knocked them out of bounds just shy of South Pasadena territory. With two seconds left, the Panthers forced their way over the Tigers’ scoring line for a rushing touchdown. Their extra point boosted their score to 14.
The third quarter began, and South Pasadena’s defense lagged. After an elegant pass swept the Panthers further down the field, Poly dodged defensive attempts and scored a rushing touchdown. A failed two-point conversion left the total tally at 38-20.
Senior running back Gio Cruz made a polished carry with the ball back in the Tigers’ possession. A series of short runs led to the Panthers taking over on downs with five minutes left. Poly hovered near SPHS’s end zone, getting closer and closer until Farley achieved a clean interception with the ball on Poly’s 25-yard line. Receiving a handoff from Lee, Robinson made a great run with two minutes on the clock. Robinson continued to propel the Tigers forward until the quarter ended.
South Pasadena started the final quarter on defense. After several advances by Poly, Eisenberg made a graceful interception, recovering possession for SPHS. With six minutes left, Hong made a fantastic 84-yard run, reaching the opposing end zone for a rushing touchdown. The missed extra point held the score at 44-20.
A sack by junior defensive end James Dowd and a near interception by Eisenberg proved to the crowd that Tiger defense was coming back strong. Once South Pasadena took possession on downs, Cruz ran a 15-yard touchdown. Fox’s extra point raised the score to 51-20.
Poly offense took charge with a minute left, executing a long run followed by a six-yard passing touchdown. The two teams ran the clock until the quarter ended, the final score reading 51-28 in favor of South Pasadena.
“I think we performed nearly perfect,” Lee said. “I think just every single play kind of showed what we’re capable of.”
South Pasadena shares its 2023 league championship with both Monrovia and San Marino, a three-way win. Monrovia earned its portion after a triumph over the previously undefeated San Marino in their final league game.
“I think we did a good job overall getting the league champs,” Eisenberg said. “But you know, there’s still stuff to work on going into CIF that we need to improve on. I’m looking forward to making a great . . . playoff run.”
The Tigers will play their first round of CIF playoffs in a game away against the Los Osos Grizzlies at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3.