For one team, nirvana. For another team, sheer and utter disappointment.
Those were the raw emotions on display in the aftermath of the Christopher High football team’s 21-19 win over Live Oak High in their regular-season finale on Nov. 4. Although the two teams finished as tri-champions with Lincoln High—the trio had 4-1 records in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division—one would’ve never known it judging by their stark contrast in reactions after the final whistle.
For the Cougars (9-1), their task was simple: win or finish as the league runner-up. The Acorns had something significant at stake as well, as a victory would have clinched the championship outright and completed an undefeated league season.
Instead, the Acorns had to settle for a share of the Mount Hamilton Division title but in the process received a more favorable path to make a deep run in the upcoming Central Coast Section playoffs. Not that it served as any consolation for players like tailback/linebacker Jordan Fuentes, who along with most of his teammates were visibly upset afterward.
“I don’t think anyone on this team counts this as a league championship,” said Fuentes, who had another superb game, rushing for a game-high 205 yards on 33 carries. “I don’t want a tie with no one, our team didn’t want a tie with no one, our coaches didn’t want a tie with anyone. I think everyone on the team is devastated because we came in wanting to win this really bad and it just really sucks and it’s devastating.
“Everything behind us that we came into this game with, the wins, the scores, every game before this doesn’t really matter if we lost tonight. What was the point of winning all those games if we lost tonight. We tied and I don’t really count that as a league championship for us. I see it as a give me a handout, we tied and so here you go.”
Christopher coach Darren Yafai coined his team the “Cardiac Cougars” after they beat Santa Teresa in overtime on Oct. 21 and edged Live Oak (8-2). That’s an apt description as perhaps no team has had to overcome more significant injuries than CHS.
In Week 5, the Cougars lost their starting quarterback Jaxen Robinson to injury. The very next week, Kingsley Okoronkwo, a three-year varsity starter at defensive end, suffered a season-ending injury. In the Live Oak game alone, CHS lost its most explosive playmaker in wide receiver/cornerback Jaterius Lee early in the second quarter.
And with just a minute remaining in the third, standout running back/linebacker Eric Argumedo went out with an injury. Most times, a high school team that loses four of its top five players is relegated to mediocrity. All CHS did was win a share of its first A-league title in program history.
“I think it’s one of the bigger wins in school history,” Yafai said. “Our school has won a league championship before, our school has won a CCS championship before, but we just went 9-1 in an A league and that’s huge.”
Perhaps it was fitting that the Mount Hamilton Division championship would involve Live Oak and CHS, which switched from the Pacific Coast Athletic League to the BVAL this year. From a competitive standpoint, this is the best football rivalry in the South Valley.
Gilroy and Sobrato seem to be on the upswing and could change the dynamic if they ascend, but for now it’s still the Acorns and Cougars who have been the best locally for the past several years. Their latest game showed it.
CHS received another stellar performance from Damiann Gomez, who completed 11-of-20 passes for 117 yards, including the go-ahead score when he hooked up with Amari Bluford for a 54-yard touchdown to put CHS up for good, 21-12, with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Bluford caught a screen, made a couple of nice moves and followed a convoy of blockers down the right seam to the end zone. Live Oak answered with a 13-play, 76-yard TD drive, capped by Fuentes’ tackle-busting 13-yard scoring run.
Fuentes carried the ball eight times on the drive, and he had a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter. Landon Stump was 8-of-13 passing for 73 yards with a TD and interception. The latter happened on the Acorns’ penultimate possession and last best scoring chance.
Jaiden Barton, who is usually the Cougars’ nickel back but played the entire way after Lee’s injury, got the interception at his 40-yard line to essentially ice the game with 1:28 remaining.
“It was guts at the end,” Yafai said. “We have kids who have huge hearts. You saw it in the Santa Teresa game, and you saw it tonight. We have key guys go down and the next guy steps up. And we don’t have depth. Those last couple of defensive series, we’re mixing and matching and having receivers needing to play strong safety. We’ve got a great staff and great kids and it’s just awesome being here at Christopher.”
As Fuentes succinctly put it afterward, the Acorns can only blame themselves for coming up short of their goal. Up 12-7, they fumbled the ball at their own 36-yard line with 2:49 left until halftime. However, it looked as if Live Oak was going to get the defensive stop it needed after Gomez’s incompletion on a fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
But the Acorns were called for a roughing the passer penalty that kept the Cougars’ drive alive. After CHS was called for a holding penalty, Live Oak was assessed a pass interference penalty on what would’ve been another incompletion. On the very next play, Gomez connected with Saed Mustafa for a 9-yard TD.
“Props to Christopher because they played really good tonight,” Fuentes said. “But I don’t care what anyone says, we lost because of ourselves. We lost because we didn’t play to our full potential. We had stupid penalties, we had a fumble, just dumb stuff that should not happen.”
Live Oak certainly got off to a nice start, as nose guard Tim Quan recorded a tackle for a one-yard loss on the very first play from scrimmage, leading to CHS going three-and-out. Live Oak got great field position and needed just three plays to strike, with Stump hitting Diego Castellanos for a 28-yard TD on a picture-perfect play.
Meanwhile, Argumedo proved reliable for CHS yet again, rushing for 102 yards on 18 carries before departing with an injury while playing defense. And all Gomez has done since taking over for the injured Robinson is go 4-1 as a starter.
“Damiann has got the heart of a lion,” Yafai said.
As expected, the winner of the Mount Hamilton was slotted in the tough CCS Division II bracket. CHS, the No. 6 seed, opens up on the road with a familiar opponent in No. 3 seed Aptos, which is a member of the PCAL Gabilan Division.
Live Oak received the No. 2 seed in Division III and plays host to No. 7 seed Soledad. Both games are on Nov. 11 at 7pm.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]