Story by Benjamin Regan
Online Managing Editor
Photo by Samantha Shiroishi
The South Pasadena Tigers welcomed the San Marino Titans to Ray Solari Stadium in the hopes of reclaiming the Varsity Football Perpetual plaque, last won by the Tigers in 2021. After 60 minutes of low-scoring football, in a game that featured only two touchdowns, San Marino celebrated their 10-7 win. The Titans handed the Tigers their second consecutive loss in the rivalry and their first of the season.
Fans showed out for the Tigers highly-anticipated Color Day Game, black and orange covering the bleachers. South Pasadena sported their all-black jerseys with orange numbers and black pants, while visiting San Marino wore their all-white uniforms with blue numbers and blue piping. Coming into the game, both teams had a successful non-league run. The Tigers were smooth-sailing, going 5-0, and the Titans 4-1. The two teams want nothing more than to beat the other. In the 2023 rendition of the rivalry, San Marino edged out South Pasadena.
The first league game of 2023 began with South Pasadena in possession. Junior quarterback Zachary Lee completed a screen pass to senior running back Jason Hong for a first down, but the Tigers were forced to punt after three short gains.
San Marino’s first drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock. After back-to-back runs, the Titan’s quarterback spun the ball to the far sideline for a new set of downs. San Marino converted another third down on the drive to push the ball well into South Pasadena territory, but a taunting penalty moved the ball back. After junior cornerback David Eisenberg wrapped up a San Marino receiver for a loss, the Titans were forced to settle for a field goal. The kick, from nearly 50 yards out, was true. San Marino took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
South Pasadena’s response was short-lived. Lee’s pass attempt was tipped by junior tight end James Dowd and fell into the hands of a San Marino defender for an interception. The Titans took over.
San Marino’s offensive game plan was built around motions and short passes. The Titans were able to move the ball throughout the game, but when they needed a stop, the Tigers’ defense stepped up. Senior cornerback Harrison Farley frustrated San Marino’s offense all night. On San Marino’s third down, he broke up a pass and forced the Titans to punt.
South Pasadena, starting their next drive from within their own 10-yard line, called on Hong repeatedly to move the ball out of the unfavorable position. Hong ran the ball three straight times, first cutting to the middle of the field and then toeing the sideline for extra yardage. Dowd hauled in a pass for a first down, and Hong ripped off a 10-yard run. The Tigers were gaining momentum offensively when the Titans sacked Lee for a loss of six yards. On fourth-down-and-one, South Pasadena aggressively went for the first down. Lee’s pass fell incomplete, but a flag flew. The penalty was roughing the passer against San Marino, which moved the ball 15 yards downfield. The Tigers, now eyeing the end zone, were crippled by a holding penalty. The field goal unit came onto the field but senior punter Sawyer Fox’s attempt was blocked by the Titans and the Tigers’ long drive ended without points.
The scoreboard operator had an uneventful first half, as the whistle blew with only three points scored. Both teams headed to the locker room while the band and color guard took the field for their halftime performance.
San Marino had the ball and the lead to start the second half and was marching downfield when senior cornerback Luke Riffle turned the game on its head with a critical interception. Cornerbacks Riffle, Farley, and Eisenberg locked down San Marino’s passing game the entire night, continuing to keep South Pasadena in the game despite their offensive struggles.
Picked up by their defense, the Tigers’ offense finally got rolling. Eisenberg found a lane to run and gained 15 yards. Hong burst past the defense on consecutive plays, moving the ball into Titans territory. With the Tiger faithful on their feet, senior running back Devin Robinson barreled ahead and took the ball to the Tigers’ one-yard line. Hong pushed the ball into the end zone to cap off a scoring drive. South Pasadena took a 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
South Pasadena’s defense took over with the momentum on their side and the crowd roaring. Senior linebacker Gio Cruz sent a San Marino receiver flying backwards and senior linebacker Carlo “Bulldozer” Williams made a tackle in open space. On fourth down, the Titans quarterback picked up the necessary yardage for a first down. The clock ran out on the third quarter. The final 15 minutes would decide the game.
San Marino moved the ball slowly but consistently. Mostly trusting their running game, the Titans only threw the ball on screens or otherwise short passes. Nonetheless, San Marino was able to convert short-yardage third downs and break tackles to push the ball. The Titans scored a rushing touchdown to retake the lead, 10-7, with 10:27 left.
Lee, facing a third down, delivered a perfect pass where only Dowd could catch it on a dive. Fox caught a pass and senior wide receiver Elijah Garcia outran San Marino defenders for a first down. Facing another third down, Lee found Fox for a gain short of the sticks. On fourth-down-and-six, the Titans jumped offside, a massive mistake that moved the ball a singular yard away from a first down. Lee handed the ball to Hong and he was wrapped up short of the first down. South Pasadena turned the ball over.
San Marino took over with under five minutes remaining. A wild sequence ensued. From the Tigers’ 20 yard-line, San Marino’s quarterback threw a pass over the middle of the field. Riffle, anticipating the ball, undercut the route and intercepted the pass, his second of the game. The interception came with 1:57 remaining. The Tigers’ defense once again gave its offense a chance. The next play, Lee’s pass was intercepted.
The Titans kneeled out the victory. The final score was 10-7.
South Pasadena’s defense dominated all game, but the offense could not find points when they needed them most. The Color Day Game ended in defeat.
The Tigers’ will travel to Monrovia on Friday, Oct. 6, in search of their first league win.