With over 2,000 people in attendance to watch host Live Oak beat Sobrato 41-20 in the much-anticipated return of the El Toro Bowl on Sept. 23, Bulldogs coach Joel Rueda might have summed up the mood best afterward.
“It was Live Oak over Sobrato, but today, I felt like the community of Morgan Hill won,” the first-year Sobrato coach said. “I’m glad these seniors got to experience this because the last six senior classes didn’t. It was special.”
Xavier Catano, the Acorns’ outstanding wide receiver, concurred.
“I’ve never been around an atmosphere like this,” Catano said, describing the packed stands, overflow of spectators lined up all around the field and the three food trucks that were parked near the stadium entrance. “It was a great feeling to be a part of this.”
The crosstown rivals were playing for the first time since 2016, when Live Oak mauled Sobrato, 59-13. In 2015, the Acorns drubbed the Bulldogs, 65-0. The competitive imbalance was part of the reason why the teams discontinued their annual series.
However, coaches from both sides said in the leadup to the game that the El Toro Bowl serves as a celebration of the two prep football teams in Morgan Hill, and the latest edition of the game put an exclamation mark on their point.
On the field, the Acorns (3-1) continued their domination in a series that actually started in the 2007 Central Coast Section playoffs, a 22-7 Live Oak victory. The teams played every year through 2016 and Sobrato (1-3) has come out on top just once, in 2009.
In 2011, the Bulldogs had a win later overturned to a forfeit loss after they used an ineligible player. Their latest encounter was relatively close early on as the Acorns had control but didn’t fully pull away until lineman Zack Enderle scored on a 3-yard run on the opening drive of the third quarter to make it 28-7.
Live Oak led from start to finish, highlighted offensively by the Big Three of Landon Stump, Jordan Fuentes and Catano. Given the emotion of the game, Stump had perhaps his best performance of the season, completing 9-of-12 passes for 148 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
Catano, the shifty senior receiver, had TD receptions of 4, 25 and 9 yards and added an 11-yard TD run for good measure. Fuentes was a workhorse like usual, carrying the ball 18 times for 127 yards. He also had a game-high 72 receiving yards, including two notable plays.
The first came on a 30-yard reception in which he caught the ball while already on the ground, and the second came on his 41-yard TD reception where Stump hit him in stride before Fuentes broke a would-be ankle tackle and blew by the Sobrato defense to the end zone.
The Acorns totaled 415 yards of offense to the Bulldogs’ 306. Catano said while it was good to get the win, the team’s performance showed they underestimated Sobrato.
“We need to get back to work on defense because they shouldn’t have put 20 on the board,” he said. “It should’ve been 41-0, but we took this team too lightly. So we’re not as happy as we should be. I’ve been telling our guys don’t take this game lightly because you never know what your opponent is going to give you. We took them lightly, 100%. Those two practice weeks, we thought we were going to come out with a big dub, but look what happened. We got big headed and started off slow. It was the second half we kind of put the lights out.”
The Acorns would’ve put away the Bulldogs earlier had it not been for a spectacular performance from quarterback Seth Hernstedt, who had TD runs of 56 and 27 yards and a 64-yard run that set up a Noah Taylor 1-yard TD run that cut Sobrato’s deficit to 35-20 with 7 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.
However, Live Oak promptly took the ensuing possession 69 yards on seven plays, capped by Catano’s 11-yard scoring run with 4:35 to go. Josh Gagni had a 34-yard run to highlight the game’s final scoring drive. Hernstedt finished with 186 yards rushing on 20 carries.
His four long runs—he also had an additional 20-yarder—came either on run-pass-option (RPO) plays or scrambles. A couple of times, when it seemed like nothing was there, Hernstedt simply took off and outran the Live Oak defense.
“Seth is a special athlete and obviously you see what he can do on the football field,” Rueda said. “I can’t speak enough to his character and athleticism. He’s brought a whole new life to our team.”
Ben Castellanos produced one of Sobrato’s best plays of the night when he took a swing pass and broke a couple of tackles along the left sideline for a 43-yard gain late in the second quarter. Elijah Castro had an interception for the Bulldogs.
Zurik Peery led the Live Oak defense in the first half, flying to the ball and getting in the Sobrato backfield a couple of times. Peery had four tackles and Gagni and Christian Hauge led the Acorns with six tackles each. Mark Galvez also made some strong tackles at crucial moments.
Catano said the team can reach its goals of winning a league title if they go “110% in practice” and play together.
“We have to stay quiet and do our jobs,” he said. “It’s a whole team sport and we need to play like one.”
Rueda said he was proud of his team and that playing Live Oak serves as a great motivator.
“Give credit to Live Oak because they’ve been consistently competing for an A-league championship for a long time,” said Rueda, who was a player on the 2009 Sobrato team that beat the Acorns.
Even though the rivalry has been one-sided, it’s still the biggest spectator high school sports event of the year in Morgan Hill. Of course, Rueda would love to see the Bulldogs close the gap in the coming years. “I want to help and be a part of bringing the Friday Night Lights culture back to Morgan Hill,” he said. “I want that 1980s Live Oak aura around the stadium. I want to bring that to Sobrato and I want the town to be prideful and proud of their football teams, and I’m just trying to do that part on our side.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]