First published in the Nov. 26 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The South Pasadena High School varsity football team’s fine season came to an end as the No. 1-seeded Tigers fell to Montclair High, 28-21, in the CIF-SS Division XIII semifinals last Friday.
With the score tied at 21-21 late in the fourth quarter, the host Cavaliers scored a rushing touchdown with four seconds remaining for the victory.
“We ended up losing with four seconds on the clock,” said SPHS head coach Jeff Chi, whose team concluded its season with a 7-6 record. The Tigers, who finished third in the Rio Hondo League (behind league champ Monrovia and runner-up Pasadena Poly) during the regular season, were making their first appearance in a CIF semifinal since 1976.
Meanwhile, Montclair (9-4 record) faced Arlington High of Riverside in the championship game on Friday.
SPHS had tied the game at 21-21 when senior wide receiver Grant Huntley hauled in a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Noah Aragon with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers will regroup next season, when they will seek their first football CIF title since the school last won it in 1975, according to SPHS Athletic Director Anthony Chan.
“I always like to thank my coaching staff for all the hard work they do day in and day out — watching films, preparing our kids and making adjustments on game day,” Chi said. “I think our kids really appreciate that no matter what happens, we always get the support that we need.”
After a third-place finish in the Rio Hondo League with a 3-2 record (7-6 overall), the Tigers will bid farewell to a handful of seniors, who Chi said endured a memorable season together.
“We beat La Cañada, which is a huge rivalry, and then qualified for CIF and won the first [postseason] home game in over 40 years,” Chi said. “I think they accomplished a lot for what they had. We’re never the bigger team; we’re always undersized in comparison to our opponents, but our kids are well coached, well prepared and they’re very gutsy. Collectively, we are better than any individuals.”
Senior running back Jack Riffle, South Pasadena’s top rusher, carried 178 times for 1,206 yards and 20 touchdowns, all team-highs. He also caught 23 passes for 239 yards and recorded 17 tackles (six solo, 11 assists) on defense.
Aragon completed 103 of 163 passes (63%) for 1,356 yards and 13 touchdowns. On the ground, he carried 38 times for 260 yards and six rushing touchdowns.
Huntley was South Pasadena’s top receiver, leading the team with 447 yards on 18 receptions and four touchdowns despite missing nearly half the season due to injury. He also added five solo tackles on defense.
“Grant Huntley is just a performer all around,” Chi said. “He was a huge bonus to have toward the end of the season.”
Senior Alexander Gonzalez, one of South Pasadena’s several two-way players, rushed 36 times for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, he registered 62 tackles (33 solo, 29 assists) and two sacks.
“Alex Gonzalez was doing double duty on offense as a fullback and defense as a defensive end,” Chi said. “He’s a very physically talented kid.”
Senior Jaden Castellon, a 5-foot-8, 145-pounder, recorded 66 tackles (25 solo, 41 assists) and blocked four attempted passes.
“Jaden Castellon, one of our undersized outside linebackers, did a fabulous job with just knowing his assignments and understanding the films well,” Chi said. “I know some teams pick on him but he didn’t let his size get in the way.”
Additionally, seniors Andrew Buenrostro, Sage Wayans and Luca Berk will also graduate in spring 2022. Despite losing eight seniors, Chi is excited to see what his core of underclassmen will be able to accomplish on the gridiron next year.
Junior quarterback Jackson Freking is expected to take over Aragon’s full-time starting spot next season. As a backup, he played nine games, converting 19 of 39 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns. He also added six carries for 44 yards on the ground. As a receiver, Freking had 17 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown.
“[Freking] did a great job in the San Marino game to bring us back to win, so his future looks very promising. I think he’ll do a fine job,” Chi said.
Sophomore running back Jason Hong, who is expected to fill the hole that Riffle will leave, rushed 36 times for 201 yards and one touchdown. Defensively, Hong tallied 51 tackles (22 solos, 29 assists) and one sack.
Junior Quinn Stirling, one of South Pasadena’s top defenders, recorded a team-high 82 tackles (42 solo, 40 assists) and blocked two passes. Offensively, he had 17 receptions for 209 yards and one touchdown.
Junior Richard Conti had 22 receptions for 278 yards and three touchdowns while adding 14 tackles on defense, and freshman James Dowd caught two passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns. He also registered 23 total tackles and two sacks on defense.