There used to be a time when Oak Grove High was a thorn on the side of the Live Oak High football team—and the rest of the Blossom Valley Athletic League for that matter. But that is no longer the case.
With a 34-0 drubbing of the Eagles on Friday in San Jose, the Acorns have now won two of the last three meetings between the schools. The victory was much needed after the Acorns were humbled in a 35-7 loss to Los Gatos before entering their bye week.
“It was good,” Live Oak coach Mike Gemo said. “The kids refocused in the bye week and really practiced hard.”
The final score doesn’t begin to show how utterly one-sided the game was. The Acorns finished with 293 yards of total offense while holding the Eagles to 51, which could be a record for fewest yards allowed in the Gemo era.
Ends Justin Kester-Johnson and Alexis Yerena along with lineman Zack Enderle were outplaying their Oak Grove counterparts, while linebackers like Nathan Williams were flying to the ball. And cornerback Anthony Gracia was one reason the Eagles failed to complete a pass all game as he provided blanket coverage.
“Our defense was outstanding tonight,” Gemo said. “We kept them from getting outside and we did a good job of getting 11 hats to the ball. We gang tackled and played hard. I don’t know how many yards they got, but I’m sure it wasn’t much.”
Meanwhile, the Acorns’ offense—and quarterback Xavier Catano in particular—combined tough-nosed play with highlight-reel material moments. The latter came when Catano hurdled a Oak Grove defender at the 3-yard line before landing in the end zone that left his teammates awestruck in what would’ve been the play of the year.
However, since hurdling or jumping players are not allowed in high school football, the magnificent moment of athleticism went for a penalty. Catano said he had a good reason to hurdle the particular player in question.
“The first time he tackled me he (took a shot at my knee),” Catano said. “I had to hit him with a hurdle because I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Honestly, I didn’t know I was going to do it, but my adrenaline was just too high and I was feeling it.”
Live Oak’s X factor had perhaps his best game of the season, and that’s saying something. Catano completed 5-of-7 passes for 86 yards, including touchdown throws of 8, 11 and 21 yards. The latter was a next level toss in which he unleashed a tight, fast spiral that hit Brandon Hooks in-stride in the end zone for a TD with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining.
Catano’s 11-yard TD pass to Anthony Gracia was perhaps his most impressive. On a first-and-10 from the Oak Grove 11-yard line, Catano scrambled to the right sideline to buy some more time. Just as he threw the pass, Catano got leveled by an Oak Grove player.
No matter. Catano was OK and the Acorns padded their lead. Catano also rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries, using his athleticism and speed to blow by defenders but also putting his head down and showing he could grind out yards as well.
“Xavier is a ballplayer,” Gemo said. “He gets stuff done and gets the team hyped up. He keeps them fired up and does a lot of good stuff.”
Brandon Hooks had TD receptions of 8 and 21 yards, showcasing his speed and playmaking ability. Live Oak’s offensive line of Jose Rivera, Conrad Wood, Zack Enderle, Aaron Parra and Grayson Dietz dominated the line of scrimmage to open up nice holes for the run game. Nathan Williams also delivered some pancake blocks to free up Catano—who also had a 4-yard TD run—and Jordan Fuentes for some big gains.
Fuentes had another solid outing, rushing for 88 yards on 19 carries, including a 6-yard TD run. Time and again Fuentes plowed his way for extra yardage after first contact. He helped the Acorns outgain Oak Grove 141-10 in the first half, and no, that’s not a typo.
Despite the statistical advantage, Live Oak went into halftime with only a 13-0 lead.
“We made some mistakes and were killing ourselves,” Gemo said. “Our heads weren’t in it and we were kind of overhyped a little bit. But they tightened it up and fixed everything at halftime and came out and put (Oak Grove) away in the second half.”
Did they ever. The Acorns scored on all three of their possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters to win going away. They never punted, a telltale sign of how they had their way with the Eagles. The game actually got off to an ominous start for the Acorns, who botched the opening snap which Oak Grove recovered.
However, the Live Oak defense held firm as players like Williams, Fuentes and Everett Wallace were flying to the ball.
When Live Oak beat Oak Grove in the 2018 season, it had already lost twice in division play and finished a game behind Lincoln in the standings. This time, they’re hoping history won’t repeat itself.
“Our goal is to go 7-0 in league,” Gemo said. “We’re going to keep working and our next opponent is a darn good opponent in Leland. We have to go there next Friday night and if we’re going to win that game, we win it Monday through Thursday (in practice).”