If the Live Oak High football team wanted to keep its goal alive to win a Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division championship, it needed to beat Leland in San Jose on Friday. Mission accomplished. The Acorns overcame a sluggish start to win in impressive fashion, 49-12. Leland entered the contest tied with Oak Grove for first place with 4-0 records.
After Friday night’s action, Live Oak, Leland and Lincoln all have 4-1 marks, one game back of Oak Grove, which closes out the season with tough games against Leland and Lincoln. The Acorns play Lincoln next before finishing the regular-season against Santa Teresa, a team it should handle. Given that Oak Grove is unlikely to lose its final two games—going 1-1 is a more likely scenario—the Acorns face another must-win game when they host Lincoln on Friday. Live Oak (7-1 overall, 4-1 league) needed to beat Leland after a disappointing showing against Oak Grove in the league opener last month.
“We had a lot of stuff going on internally with the team when that game was happening at Oak Grove, but we have refocused,” Acorns coach Mike Gemo said. “This was the game the kids wanted all week, and they came out and proved it.”
Did they ever. Once the Acorns got things going, they proved their superiority against the Chargers, who had no answer for Caleb Ojeda, the former receiver turned quarterback who has looked like he has played the position his entire life and is downright lethal in the open field. Ojeda had a hand in five of Live Oak’s seven touchdowns, including TD runs of 36, 47 and 44 yards. On each of those scoring plays, Ojeda received great blocking from his offensive line and receivers, and he did the rest, blowing by the Leland defense en route to the end zone.
On each of those TD runs, Ojeda put all of his enormous talents on display: speed, finding a running lane, weaving in and out of traffic and making cuts on a dime that left defenders flat-footed.
“Caleb is just an athletic kid that can do a little bit of everything,” Gemo said. “Once he gets in the open space, it’s hard to get him down.”
Ojeda rushed for 179 yards on 10 carries—meaning he gained nearly 18 yards every time he ran the ball—while completing 7-of-11 passes for 166 yards, including TD throws of 1 and 72 yards. Live Oak dominated the line play on both sides of the ball, setting up both units to thrive.
“Shout out to my O-line for giving those holes and letting me break loose from those big defensive linemen,” Ojeda said. “They did a real good job of handling those guys inside, and my wide receivers did a tremendous job of blocking in order for me to get on those big runs. … This was a really important game for us. It was going to be a statement setter. We were expected to lose by a lot of people, and no one thought we were going to win. But we knew we were going to win.”
Leland actually reached the end zone first before the Acorns scored the next three TDs unanswered to go up 21-6 with 1 minute, 36 seconds left in the second quarter. The Chargers answered on the ensuing possession with a quick TD drive with 37.5 seconds remaining until halftime, and they looked poised to go into the break down by nine points. However, Live Oak received a huge 48 yard punt return from Elijah Fernandez, putting the ball on the Leland 44-yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage, Ojeda found a seam down the middle of the field on a keeper before making a wicked cut across the field that left him going one way and defenders going the other way. After the team was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration, Ojeda nailed the point-after attempt from 35 yards away to make it 28-12. That scoring drive ignited a game-ending 28-0 run, a blowout victory that had Leland giving the OK for a running clock in the final four minutes.
The Acorns were coming off three consecutive blowout wins over the teams in the bottom of the league standings in Pioneer, Independence and Piedmont Hills. The combined margin of victory in those three games was 135-21. Even though the score didn’t indicate it, Live Oak knew Leland would prove to be a tougher contest.
“We just had to get through those games, keep focusing on the big picture and keep winning league games,” Gemo said. “Leland is a good football team—we just got them tonight.”
Said Ojeda: “We know we can’t take any team lightly. We just handle our business, practice with the same mentality every week and play for each other. Now that we are in the playoffs, we want to get a better seed and go further and hopefully get that CCS championship.”
Live Oak finished with 462 yards of total offense, with the biggest play from scrimmage coming when Ojeda threw a swing pass to Mosiah Saulala, who broke a couple of tackles just beyond the line of scrimmage before finding daylight down the right seam on his way to a 72-yard TD play. It was the second straight possession in which the Acorns scored on their first play from scrimmage, a testament to their quick-strike capability.
A.J. Gustaveson, who returned from off-season knee surgery four weeks ago, has looked stronger than he ever has this season, rushing for 60 yards on 10 carries. Gustaveson is strong running in between the tackles, and has given the team another dynamic threat offensively.
“A.J. feels he’s 100 percent healthy on that knee, he’s ready to go and you can see how hard he’s running right now,” Gemo said. “He just gives us another dimension (on offense). Now we’ve got a bunch of backs that can run the ball, the QB can run the ball and a couple of receivers who can throw it. We can rotate three to four guys every play and it really helps us out having that depth right there.”
Live Oak has one of its best linemen returning this week in Julian Mendoza, who has been recovering from an injury. That should make the team even stronger in the trenches. Defensively, the Acorns were on point against Leland, allowing 278 yards, with most of those coming in the first half. Live Oak put constant pressure on Chargers quarterback Noor Haroon, who was constantly harassed by the likes of Elver Avendano and Logan Wiemann. Avendano knocked down Haroon four times and promptly offered him a hand to pick him back up off the ground.
Wiemann had another solid game as a two-way linemen, providing protection for Ojeda while making some ferocious plays defensively. Connor Hennings had an interception early in the second quarter and Matty Blocker returned a punt 30 yards to set up Ojeda’s 47-yard TD run. In addition to his exploits at quarterback, Ojeda impressed with his kicking performance, as six of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks. The one that didn’t?
“I don’t even know—I think I got lazy,” he said.
Well, now it gives the junior standout a goal to kick the ball into the end zone on every single kickoff. Ojeda has a mentality to be his absolute best, and that means always aiming to play at a higher level.
“We work on our goals all the time,” Ojeda said. “The team is out there doing their job, and that’s what allows us to score touchdowns and help us to win.”
Fernandez had a 1-yard TD reception, Jared Martinez had a 17-yard TD run and freshman Evan Smith had a 20-yard scoring run to account for the other Live Oak touchdowns. Martinez and Smith came on late and kept the clock running with strong runs.