Rio Hondo League, be warned: The South Pas varsity football Tigers are for real.
With their league schedule beginning this week, any questions about the Tigers’ ability to at least compete for the Rio Hondo crown were most decidedly answered last Friday when South Pas recorded its most impressive victory of the season — a 34-20 decision over visiting Polytechnic of Pasadena in which quarterback Samuel Luna-Long threw for an eye-popping five touchdowns.
The Tigers improved to 5-1 on the season, with a home matchup against rival San Marino next on the schedule. Game time for that one is 7 p.m. Friday.
San Marino lost 35-0 to visiting Monrovia last Friday night to fall to 1-6 overall and 0-1 in the league. South Pas, which had a bye on its schedule on Sept. 13 after Week 3, is the only Rio Hondo team yet to play a league game.
Last Friday’s South Pas-Poly game – a matchup of two teams with 4-1 records entering the day – began at the unusually early time of 3 p.m. due to a shortage of league officials. But the matinee start had its benefits for the home team, as it allowed the Tiger coaching staff some time to savor the win, gather for a quick bite afterward and then head over to the San Marino-Monrovia game for some scouting work on their next two opponents.
Yes, the coaches were already looking ahead … but they still allowed themselves a few moments to appreciate the victory that was freshly in the books.
“This win meant a lot to ours kids and to our program,” a jubilant coach Jeff Chi said afterward. “This really showed what our kids are made of.”
Here’s one of the things they’re made of: heart.
The Tigers actually trailed 17-14 at the half after blowing a 14-0 lead, but they regrouped, made some defensive adjustments and then held the Panthers to just three points the rest of the way.
Luna-Long’s scrapbook day began with a couple of first-quarter touchdown passes – including a 70-yarder to Terrence Sweetman – that staked the Tigers to that 14-0 advantage.
But then the Panthers showed why the Tigers took them so seriously going into the game, as Poly recorded a touchdown in the first quarter, followed by another TD and a field goal in the second.
However, Luna-Long’s third touchdown pass of the game – a 20-yarder to Grant Huntley, followed by a Luna-Long extra-point kick – put the Tigers up 21-17 with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
Poly closed within 21-20 on a field goal in the final minute of the third before Luna-Long & Co. put the game away with two more TDs in the fourth.
The first was a 21-yard strike from Luna-Long to Sweetman (the point-after failed) with five minutes to go, followed by a 24-yarder to Ivan Estrada two minutes later.
Poly took the ensuing kickoff, but the Tiger defense smothered the Panthers from there, keeping them deep in their own territory before they turned over the ball over on downs, ensuring the South Pas victory.
Luna-Long finished the day 9-of-13 for 260 yards and those five TDs, with one interception. Ethan Hong rushed 11 times for 89 yards.
Among the receivers, Sweetman had three catches for 118 yards and two TDs; Huntley caught two passes for 80 yards and two scores; and Estrada made two catches for 32 yards and a TD. Sweetman also had an interception.
“There were some rough spots, some turnovers,’’ Chi said afterward. “But our defense had a great game. Offensively we just hung in there, and we pounded the ball when we needed to.
“But this is a group of guys that are tough on defense and have a lot of skill sets on offense.’’
Chi did not dismiss the proposition that his Tigers could compete for the league title — just a year removed from a modest three-victory season. But he still labeled Monrovia as “probably the top dog in the league.’’
“We’ll need to play an almost perfect game against them,’’ Chi said.
But that’s next week’s worry. First comes San Marino, a team Chi insisted he is not taking lightly despite its 1-6 record.
“We showed a lot of different weapons that we possess on our team,’’ Chi said of Friday’s victory. “It’s going to give a lot of teams a lot of problems. We’re not one-dimensional.’’
Rio Hondo League, you have been warned.
Rio Hondo League Standings
[table id=20 /]