Losing hurts. Losing to your rival smarts a little but more. And losing to your rival in a game your team led until there was, literally, no time left on the clock, is downright excruciating.
South Pasadena High School head football coach Jeff Chi was still feeling the aggregate agony caused by all three of those factors earlier this week when he was asked about the Tigers’ gut-wrenching 22-20 loss to San Marino.
“I’m still thinking about it and I think I will be thinking about it for some time to come,” Chi said solemnly.
Last Friday night, Chi probably felt confident his squad had done enough to break the then-nine-game losing streak to the Titans and improve to 2-0 on the season when sophomore quarterback Jackson Freking scored on a 10-yard run to give the Tigers a 20-19 lead with a minute left to play in the game.
But the Titans came charging back, even after a penalty on the ensuing kickoff made it an even longer journey. Five plays later, the Titans were at the Tigers’ 35-yard line with time remaining for just one more play. As the stadium clock showed 0:00, San Marino quarterback Niko Mavridis launched a pass into the end zone toward teammate Andrew Hornberger. The Tigers were called for pass interference which – in high school rules – advanced the ball 15 yards to the Tigers’ 20-yard line.
Because a game (or half) cannot end on a defensive penalty, San Marino received an untimed down. Titan senior Harry Wendling, whose name nor number appeared on the roster provided in the official game program sold at the venue, trotted onto the field and kicked a 37-yard field goal to end South Pasadena’s hopes. The successful kick also extended the Titans’ winning in the annual battle for the Crowley Cup to 10.
In one of his typical displays of good sportsmanship, Chi complimented Wendling for his effort.
“Give credit to that kicker [Wendling],” said Chi. “He really came through under pressure. He will remember that moment for the rest of his life. I am happy for the kid but it was not a good outcome for the Tigers.”
Chi was not particularly happy about the pass interference call that provided the Titans with the final field goal opportunity.
“The referee made a call and we have to live with it,” said Chi. “We have looked over and over at the film and we don’t see pass interference.”
Chi was pleased with many aspects of South Pasadena’s play, including the performance of Freking, who was called into duty on Thursday afternoon when starter Noah Aragon had a family emergency.
“He is just a sophomore and he had only a day to prepare,” said Chi. “That was his very first varsity game ever and it took place on a very big stage. Jackson proved he can play at that level and be very successful. That was a nice bootleg [touchdown run] that put us up by a point with less than a minute left in the game.”
Chi also praised junior lineman Noah Leider for his solid play.
“Noah made some some key blocks,” Chi said. “Linemen are often neglected by people outside the program but they are a huge part of our success. Noah has done a good job.”
Freking also found Grant Huntley open for a 28-yard scoring connection and Terrence Sweetman added two extra points for the Tigers.
Tailback Jack Riffle also scored for the Tigers and was a thorn in the Titans’ side all night long.
With the 66th meeting in the rivalry with San Marino now behind him, Chi is now helping the squad focus on Monrovia, which comes calling on Friday evening at 7 p.m.
“As always, they have their share of great athletes,” said Chi of the Wildcats, who enter the game with a 2-1 record after last week’s 35-28 win over Baldwin Park Sierra Vista. “It’s up to the coaching staff to figure out their weak spots.”