High school football in March. No, that’s not a typo. In a season unlike any other, Live Oak High opened its 2021—actually, 2020—season with an impressive 34-3 win over host Silver Creek Wednesday. It marked the first game of the Blossom Valley Athletic League (BVAL) season and the first contest of any team in the south county and San Benito County area, a span of 16 months.
“It feels crazy, honestly,” said Acorns standout Brandon Hooks, who had touchdown receptions of 90 and 5 yards. “It doesn’t even feel real. A month ago, I didn’t even think we’d have a season.”
He wasn’t the only one. After months of uncertainty, high school football has returned, the action on the field still fast-paced, but in other ways things were different. The BVAL spectator policy allows two members of an athlete’s immediate household to attend games, limiting the amount of people in the stands. That didn’t stop fans from both sides from “attending” the game.
Because Silver Creek High, which is situated smack dab in the middle of a south San Jose neighborhood, fans who were not a member of a player’s immediate household gathered to watch the game behind a chain-link face that separates the stadium to one of the school’s outside streets. They saw Live Oak—which finished 9-2 in 2019—score 34 unanswered points to win going away after the Raiders scored their only points of the game on Javier Chavez’s 27-yard field goal with 4:54 left in the first quarter.
After that, it was all Live Oak. On the ensuing possession, Trent Cousens connected with Mosiah Saulala for a 14-yard TD to give the Acorns a lead they would never relinquish. Hooks set up the team with great field position after returning the kickoff 41 yards to its 44-yard line. Midway through the drive, starting quarterback Caleb Ojeda had to exit the game after reaggravating an injury on a 5-yard run.
Though no team wants to lose its starting QB—especially one of the caliber of Ojeda—Cousens looked solid in his first extensive game action. He completed his first seven passes—three of which were TDs—before throwing two incompletions to finish 7 of 9 for 120 yards with an interception.
“Last year was a big year for Trent, even though he didn’t get to play a lot,” Acorns coach Mike Gemo said. “The practice time and being able to build up the camaraderie (were key in his development). The guys love him and he just always stays ready. It’s a tribute to him and we’re excited he was ready.”
As was Hooks, a junior playmaker who plays multiple positions and can make an impact from anywhere on the field. In addition to finishing with three receptions for 100 yards, Hooks rushed for 32 yards on six carries, the most coming on a 17-yard gain off a sweep around the left end on the team’s third offensive play from scrimmage. However, it was his 90-yard, catch-and-run TD that displayed his speed and playmaking ability.
On a first-and-10 from its 10-yard line, Cousens hit Hooks with a quick pass over the middle. Hooks, who caught the ball in stride at around the 17-yard line, outran several Silver Creek players to the end zone to make it 13-3 with three minutes left until halftime.
“I don’t know what was going to happen on that play because we run that play a lot in practice and sometimes I drop the ball and I brain fart,” Hooks said. “It was a fun play and I’m just glad that I helped the team. I’ve been putting in a bunch of work so it’s not a surprise (to see results on the field), but it’s a good feeling.”
Said Gemo: “Brandon can do everything for us. We like having the ball in his hands. He’s fast and gives us another dimension as an all-around playmaker. He worked all off-season and continues to get better. We expect big things out of him for the next two years.”
Even amid the uncertainty of a season, Hooks didn’t rest on his laurels. He was motivated by the fact that even if his junior season was going to be wiped out, he could look forward to his senior year. Hooks said he trained every Sunday with Doug Webster at Leigh High, who got me “a lot stronger for sure.”
Logan Wiemann, the 2019 Mount Hamilton’s Most Outstanding Linemen, returns to anchor both the offensive and defensive line. Fellow senior Nate Zavaleta and sophomore center Zach Enderle also spearheaded the team’s strong line play against Silver Creek. Sophomore Jordan Fuentes rushed for a game-high 101 yards on 15 carries, accounting for half of the team’s 202 yards gained on the ground. He also made an impact on defense with a sack midway through the third period.
“We saw something out of Jordan as a freshman last year, and we were excited to get him up with us,” Gemo said. “He runs behind his shoulder pads pretty well, is pretty elusive and he’s going to be a good one.”
The Live Oak defense completely shut down the Raiders, who were limited to 108 yards of total offense. Sophomore Everett Wallace made his presence felt, producing three tackles for losses, including a gem of a play on the Raiders’ second possession in the second quarter in which he came around the Silver Creek QB’s blind side, delivered a hit, caused a fumble and then recovered the ball at the Raiders 19-yard line.
Six plays later, Cousens and Hooks connected for a 5-yard TD as the halftime horn sounded, one of the rare buzzer-beating plays one sees at any level in the sport. Hooks caught the ball near the left sideline at the 5, made a move and carried a couple of defenders into the end zone, his outstretched hands putting the ball just over the pylon for the score. Gemo was pleased all the way around, especially since senior Jalen Rios was back on the sideline—though not suited up to play—for the first time since early in the 2019 season, when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Jalen being out here fired up the team,” Gemo said. “It was great to see him out here, looking good and being excited for his teammates. He lifts our spirits.”
Every team in the Mount Hamilton Division will play an abbreviated five-game league season—compared to seven games—but the BVAL has decided it will still award a league champion for the team with the best record.
“The big thing here we talk about as a team is we have five games to have a good time together for the last time,” Gemo said. “The kids just want to be together. They’re going to play to win, but in the long run, I’m happy they get to get out and do something.”
Indeed, when the news came out from state health officials that high-contact outdoor sports would be allowed to play, Hooks didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights because he was so excited.
“It feels phenomenal,” he said. “We are hyped up again and we are doing pretty good so far, but now I want to see us against tougher competition.”