The finality that a loss brings to a high school football team with championship aspirations hits the coaches and players hard. That was especially true for Live Oak after a 28-21 loss to Mountain View in a Central Coast Section Division III playoff quarterfinal on Nov. 12.
“When you lose you’re sad but you’re also smiling because those are your brothers that you went to battle with everyday and gave the best effort you could,” longtime Acorns coach Mike Gemo said. “You can all look at each other after the game and know each and every one of them gave everything they could until the final whistle.”
Despite being the No. 2 seed, Live Oak (7-3) knew it would be facing a tough team in No. 7 seed Mountain View (6-5). It didn’t help that three starters went out during the game with injuries, limiting what the Acorns could do. Xavier Catano and Brandon Hooks connected twice on touchdowns of 19- and 46 yards, respectively.
The 19-yarder accounted for the first score of the game, but the Spartans ran off 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 14-point lead. Live Oak didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, when Catano hit Hooks in-stride down the left seam for a 46-yard TD. Hooks was in motion from right to left and no one from Mountain View could stay with him as he ran a straight go route.
Catano accounted for the team’s final TD with a nifty 16-yard TD run on a keeper. Catano burst through to the second level and left several defenders in his wake en route to the end zone. However, the Spartans offense controlled the ball and was able to run out the clock to end things. Mountain View finished with 365 yards of total offense to the Acorns’ 221, one of the lowest offensive outputs for Live Oak all season.
“The kids battled, but Mountain View did a good job of taking away what we do best,” Gemo said. “And we didn’t do a good enough job of executing what was there.”
The Acorns were limited to 134 yards on the ground, but came into the contest averaging over 200 rushing yards per game. They suffered a big blow to their ground game when Jordan Fuentes suffered a leg injury in the penultimate game of the regular-season. And the team’s other top tailback, Nathan Williams, was out of the playoff game by halftime due to injury.
Although Fuentes made a valiant effort to come back for the second half, he wasn’t at 100% and was limited in that he couldn’t make explosive cuts or sudden shifts of direction.
“We gave Jordan the ball and he said, ‘Coach, don’t hold me back. I’ve got the offseason to rest,’” Gemo said. “He knew what we needed and he gave us a great effort stepping in there for all the injuries we had.”
Mountain View also had its way with the Live Oak defense, converting 8 of 13 third-down opportunities. Despite the loss, Live Oak had another solid season, finishing percentage points off of a BVAL Mount Hamilton Division championship. They’ve also made the playoffs every year since 2013, which Gemo thinks might be the longest streak out of all the BVAL teams.
“It’s something the kids really work for and it’s the goal they all had when the season started,” Gemo said. “It’s hard to see kids like Nate, Trent (Cousens) and Brandon—guys who have been on the varsity three years—and all of a sudden they’re not playing football at Live Oak anymore, just like that. As a coach, you never see that day is going to come even though you know it’s going to come. I can’t wait to see what they do in their lives, but it’s very emotional as a coach because I won’t get to see our kids everyday.”
As expected, Live Oak had many deserving players earn all league honors. Williams won Mount Hamilton MVP honors, Catano was the Co-Junior of the Year, Aaron Parra the Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Justin Kester-Johnson the Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Fuentes, Cousens, Zack Enderle, Keelan Echauri and Everett Wallace made First Team all league honors, while Hooks, Conrad Wood, Anthony Gracia, Franky Cortez and Grayson Dietz earned Second Team honors.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.