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June 9, 2023

Live Oak High football team hopes for long CCS Division III playoff run

Before the start of each season, Live Oak High football coach Mike Gemo always has several goals in mind. One of them—assuming the team is good enough in that particular year—is to earn a top four seed to get a home playoff game. 

The No. 2 seed Acorns (7-2) have fulfilled that goal and play host to No. 7 Mountain View (5-5) in a Central Coast Section Division III opener on Friday at 7pm.

“We talk about giving ourselves the best chance for a home playoff game and being in a division we can compete in,” Gemo said. “And that worked out for us this year.”

Live Oak is coming off a 33-7 win over Piedmont Hills in the regular-season finale, its fourth consecutive blowout victory in as many games. The Acorns finished 5-1 in Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division play to tie for second with Lincoln. Leland won the title with a 6-1 mark (the Live Oak-Lincoln contest was ruled a no-contest due to Covid protocols).  

Meanwhile, Mountain View finished 2-4 in the ultra-competitive Santa Clara Valley League De Anza Division. 

“They play in a tough downhill football league,” Gemo said. “They run the ball really well and they got size up front. They’re used to playing big boys like Los Gatos and Wilcox, so we’ll have to strap on our helmets a little tighter this week to get what we want.”

Record aside, the Spartans should provide the Acorns with their toughest challenge in over a month. Live Oak hasn’t had a competitive game since losing to Leland, 14-13, on Oct. 1. The offensive line of Conrad Wood, Aaron Parra, Zack Enderle, Jose Rivera and Grayson Dietz—one of Gemo’s biggest question marks entering the season—has excelled and really hit their stride midway through the year.  

“They’re starting to jell and understand our blocking concepts,” Gemo said. “They realize the hole doesn’t have to be huge for our backs to get through there, so they know they just have to be engaged. They’ve been playing really well lately.”

Mountain View is averaging 33 points per game so one of the key matchups is whether Live Oak’s defense can slow down the Spartans. Outside of a 35-7 loss to powerhouse Los Gatos, the Acorns are allowing just 10 points per game, the best mark in the Gemo era. 

“They’ve scored a lot of points and our defense has given up very little, so that will be the biggest matchup,” Gemo said. “Can we keep them off the scoreboard enough?”

Parra, Justin Kester-Johnson, Nathan Williams, Everett Wallace and Keelan Echauri have led the defensive charge in recent weeks. Williams is a tackling machine and Wallace and cornerback Echari both had “great” games last week, Gemo said.

“They’re playing good, sound team defense, and we’ve got to keep it up another week at least,” Gemo said. 

Against Piedmont Hills, the Acorns made it look easy, going up 20-0 after one quarter. Xavier Catano had an incredible game, completing 5-of-6 passes for 175 yards while rushing for 211 yards on 11 touches—an astounding 19.2 yards per carry. One of his three touchdowns was an 83-yard run. 

Williams had a huge game as well, rushing for 129 yards and two TDs on 16 carries and hauling in two passes for 101 yards. Brandon Hooks finished with two receptions for 74 yards as the Acorns seemingly busted off huge play after huge play. Williams, Parra, Alexis Yerena and Jacob Wallace had 10 tackles each to lead the defense.

Nathan Williams had a monster game in the Acorns’ 33-7 win over Piedmont Hills on Nov. 5. The senior running back/linebacker totaled 230 all-purpose yards and had three touchdowns. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Brandon Hooks makes a leaping grab in between two Piedmont Hills defenders in Live Oak’s regular-season finale. The Acorns finished 5-1 in BVAL Mount Hamilton Division play. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.

Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected].

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