First published in the Oct. 20 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Game three of the five-game Rio Hondo League football season was pivotal in the hunt for the league title, and the urgency to secure a win entering the final stretch was on display as La Cañada High School hosted South Pasadena last Friday.
In a wildly competitive affair, including an tremendous individual output on both sides, South Pasadena came out on top and ruined the Spartans’ homecoming game, 41-35.
“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a battle,” South Pasadena coach Jeff Chi said. “I didn’t know it was going to be this close. [La Cañada] is a good team.”
The catalyst for South Pasadena (7-1, 2-1) was the play of wide receiver Richard Conti, who accounted for all the receiving yards for the visitors.
The senior caught all six of the Tigers’ pass completions for 270 yards and touchdowns of 69, 66, 34 and 59 yards respectively. Quarterback Jackson Freking, not coincidentally, was six of nine for the 270 yards with the four scores.
For La Cañada (4-4 overall record, 1-2 league), it was Corey Cheung who had a huge night. The senior carried the ball 34 times for 283 yards, including touchdown runs of three, 50 and 16 yards.
Cheung, who also had a sack on defense that forced a fumble, had 42 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter, 53 yards on eight carries in the second, and one carry for six yards in the third. In the fourth quarter, he had 15 carries for 182 yards with the game on the line.
“This week we said that if you show some effort and you try your hardest, [we] can beat them,” Cheung said. “We definitely did, but a few mistakes here and there cost us the game.”
The score entering the final quarter was knotted at 21-21 before the teams combined for five touchdowns in the fourth. On the second play of the quarter, Tiger Jason Hong ran for a five-yard touchdown, followed by a successful PAT kick by Aidan Kinney.
The ensuing La Cañada drive lasted three plays and covered 67 yards in 1:01. Cheung finished it with a 50-yard run that saw him burst through the middle of the line into the open on the way to paydirt. A PAT kick by Royce Xiao tied the game once again.
The Tigers answered back on their next drive. On fourth down and five yards to go, Freking connected with Conti along the left sideline. The senior made the catch and spun out of a Spartan tackle for a 34-yard touchdown. The PAT was good for a 35-28 advantage.
However, the Spartans came right back with a 65-yard drive. Cheung, who had a 22-yard run earlier in the drive, scored on a 16-yard run followed by a PAT kick conversion with 8:21 to go.
The Tigers soon found themselves with a fourth down and three yards to go at their own 41-yard line. They went for it again and succeeded with a 59-yard scoring pass from Freking to Conti. The ensuing PAT kick was low and never had a chance to get over the line of Spartan blockers.
La Cañada had one more chance, taking over the ball at its own 15-yard line with 5:04 left. In the final minute, the Spartans faced a fourth down and 13 yards from the 25-yard line. Forced to put it up, quarterback Macky Plocher threw the ball into the end zone, where Kinney intercepted it to secure the win.
“We can do what we want offensively. We’ve been doing that all year,” La Cañada coach Dave Avramovich said. “We just have to get better defensively and on special teams. We don’t have to be A-plus defensively; we just have to be decent, and tonight we weren’t decent.”
Plocher finished eight of 19 for 126 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The junior also rushed for 64 yards on nine carries, not including seven yards lost on two sacks. Trent Carey had two grabs, both for touchdowns, for 97 yards. Hayden Dancsecs had three catches for 17 yards, Tyler Bond had three for 11 yards and Jake Hofman had a one-yard reception.
The first quarter ended with La Cañada leading, 7-6. The Spartans took the opening possession of the game 65 yards in eight plays. Plocher, facing a fourth down and nine yards to go, connected with Carey for a 35-yard touchdown.
South Pasadena scored less than a minute later on a 69-yard reception by Conti off of play action. Spartan Andrew Gevorgian blocked the extra point.
In the second quarter, South Pasadena scored two touchdowns back to back. The first was a 15-yard run by Hong, who also ran in the two-point conversion. The second was a 66-yard reception by Conti, once again off play action.
In the final 2:27, La Cañada scored two touchdowns to tie the game. Plocher threw a 62-yard scoring pass to Conti. La Cañada’s Lorenz Bayug then recovered the Spartan on-side attempt. Soon after, Cheung scored on a three-yard run with 17 seconds left.