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Tigers to Host San Marino in League Opener

The undefeated South Pasadena High School varsity football team is set to open Rio Hondo League action against rival San Marino at home on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.
“We’re excited to face San Marino,” South Pasadena coach Jeff Chi said. “I know it’s going to be a brand new season for all of us. As far as we’re concerned, we are 0-0 trying to win that league title. We need to take it one game at a time and our first opponent happens to be San Marino.”
The Tigers (5-0 overall) face a significant challenge in their league opener, having secured just one victory in their last 10 head-to-head matchups against the Titans (4-1) since 2013. Their most recent success was a 24-21 victory on South Pasadena’s home turf in 2021.
“I don’t think the past holds a lot of weight. With any other rivalry games, whether it be at a high school or collegiate level, you never know,” Chi said. “San Marino has a pretty good record for themselves, too, so they know how to win and, obviously, we know how to win so it’s going to be a very physical battle. Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes will come out with the win.”
SPHS dominates the running game behind senior standout Jason Hong who boasts a team-high 812 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He has recorded four games with over 100 yards rushing, including one 200-plus yard performance.
As a team, the Tigers average 241 rushing yards per game, while San Marino lags behind with just 106 rushing yards per game.
“[Hong] is a very physical runner and I think we have a very physical line so I think we just need to take advantage of our strength,” Chi said.
San Marino relies more on passing and Chi has readied his defense to counter that. The Titans average 236 passing yards per game, while the trio of SPHS quarterbacks average 140 passing yards per game.
“With the passing game, a lot of things have to go right. You need protection from the linemen, the quarterback has to make the right read and the receiver has to catch the ball,” Chi said. “We’re hoping to disrupt that rhythm and timing of San Marino’s quarterback and their receivers.”
The defense is anchored by senior Carlo Williams, who has amassed 37 tackles. Meanwhile, junior David Ortega has contributed 25 tackles, senior Gio Cruz 22 tackles, junior Alessandro Jemai with 20 tackles, and junior David Eisenberg with 19 tackles and two interceptions.
“I think we’ve been battle-tested in terms of our passing defense against Baldwin Park as well as Schurr [High of Montebello],” Chi said. “Our tackling has improved and our guys are very smart about recognizing formation and the top plays the other teams are running.”
Chi confirmed that he will tap junior quarterback Zachary Lee to start in the pocket for the Tigers but didn’t rule out changing play-callers as needed. Lee has been the primary quarterback, leading with 414 passing yards, four touchdowns and a 56% completion rate.
“I think [Lee] has proven himself to be a pretty effective quarterback,” Chi said. “We always need a backup just in case something does happen so I am glad we have both [senior Liam Ohannesian and junior Cameron Park] at hand.”
Meanwhile, the receiving corps featuring senior Sawyer Fox, senior Elijah Garcia and junior James Dowd has been productive, each reeling in over 10 catches and 100-plus receiving yards. Dowd boasts 18 catches for 231 yards, Fox has secured 11 catches for 224 yards and Garcia has 10 catches for 167 yards.
“I have to give credit to our receiving core; they are a solid group of kids,” Chi said. “At any given point, any one of those guys could do an excellent job of catching the ball and running for touchdowns.”
Following the league opener, South Pas will visit league champion Monrovia (2-2) on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. before visiting Temple City on Oct. 12.

South Pasadena High School junior James Dowd has 18 catches for 231 yards across five games for the Tigers who open Rio Hondo League play against rival San Marino on Friday
South Pasadena High School junior David Eisenberg produced 19 tackles and two interceptions across five games to help the Tigers finish their nonleague schedule with a perfect 5 0 record

First published in the September 29 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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