Even Live Oak High head football coach Jim Arostegui said it looked bleak following the 87-yard pass play for a touchdown that Pierce completed to go up 13-0 with just over 10 minutes left Friday night in Arbuckle.
But Arostegui’s team never fully threw in the towel, mounting a pair of fourth-quarter drives to surge past Pierce with under a minute left for an eventual 14-13 road win over the Bears in a battle between a pair of Sacramento Valley League undefeated teams.
“We could have rolled over, especially after they scored on that long pass,” Arostegui said.
Live Oak improves to 7-2 overall and 5-0 in SVL play heading into next week’s regular-season finale at Colusa.
“We didn’t quit,” Arostegui said. “I’m proud of their effort and hanging in there against a good team away from home.”
Down 13-0 after Pierce quarterback Eduardo Paiz hit Daniel Medina on a 5-yard slant that Medina took to the end zone for an 87-yard touchdown, Live Oak needed to rally quickly with a couple scores. But its offense isn’t quite set up for the quick strike as Live Oak is more of a run-heavy grind-a-team-down offense. So, Arostegui elected to go trickery, calling a halfback pass which ended up in the ends of sophomore tight end Ta’jon Bloomer for an 18-yard completion and first down.
“It was ugly but it got us a first down,” Arostegui said.
A few plays later, quarterback Tony Vallejo found Eddie Torres on a 12-yard fade near the front pylon, trimming the deficit to 13-7 with 5 minutes, 20 seconds left.
Then it was the defense’s turn, as Bloomer would help force a Pierce incompletion with a hurry up tackle on Paiz on third-and-two. On fourth-and-two, Nick Gomes stopped Pierce cold in the backfield for the tackle for loss to get Live Oak the ball back at its own 35-yard line inside of 4 minutes remaining.
Odin Moody helped move the chains inside Bear territory with a 17-yard run on fourth down. Dominic Herrera, who had a first-half interception for Live Oak, came up big offensively with a 16-yard reception from Vallejo, advancing the ball to the red zone. The connection of Vallejo and Torres finished the drive when Vallejo tossed one up that at first glance appeared short, but Torres went up and secured it and fell in the end zone for the 15-yard touchdown to tie it up at 13 with 54.5 seconds left.
Live Oak converted the PAT for its first lead, 14-13.
“I’m speechless,” Bloomer said.
Bloomer and the defense preserved the win when Hunter Ballantyne batted down a Paiz pass on fourth down with less than 30 seconds left.
For Pierce (6-3, 4-1), the outcome was disappointing, but not that surprising given the play of Live Oak down the stretch.
Head coach Anthony Tapia credited Vallejo for finding the passing lanes given his lack of size against Pierce’s defensive line.
Tapia also said Live Oak’s mentality was impressive.
“Our job was to stop the run, (Moody) is the best running back we’ll see all year,” he said. “They got us on the pass. (Vallejo) gets it out quick, it’s a three-step drop and he is already looking. They executed those pass plays really good. Even the incompletions were a couple inches away.”
Live Oak is at Colusa, Pierce finishes the regular season in Durham next week.