It’s just one Live Oak Says Goodbye to TCAL Neighbors, Gilroy
and San Benito
By Ana Patejdl Staff Writer
It’s just one example of the kind of rivalry Gilroy and Live Oak have held for decades as league rivals.
In the last Monterey Bay League (MBL) game of the 1993 high school football season, underdog Gilroy scored a touchdown with 44 seconds left, going ahead by seven to seemingly pull off the huge upset of unbeaten Live Oak.
The Gilroy players and fans came off the benches and poured out of the stands onto the field, recalled Live Oak’s then-head coach Norm Dow. They thought Gilroy had toppled the perennial Goliath of the MBL, and so did Dow.
“I figured we had lost,” he said. “I was actually on the sideline thinking about what I was going to say to the other side.”
But Live Oak wasn’t done.
The Acorns miraculously made their way downfield to the 14-yard line, thanks to a 32-yard kickoff return by Ryan Smith and a Hail Mary 38-yard pass from quarterback Benji Sanchez to tight end Ryan Neufield. Then Sanchez hit wide receiver Justin Jacobs in the end zone with no time on the clock to close Live Oak within 13-14.
“We decided to go for two. We didn’t have any timeouts, so I pointed to Sanchez, which means ‘Make the call,'” Dow said.
On the conversion, Sanchez handed the ball to Lenny Betancourt, who broke three tackles and rumbled into the end zone. The final score was Live Oak 15, Gilroy 14. Mustang heartbreak inevitable followed.
“There was blue all over the field. They were out there lying on the ground, crying. It looked like a Civil War battlefield,” Dow said. “Gilroy was absolutely annihilated and (Gilroy head coach) John Lango was out there saying, ‘It’s only a game! It’s only a game!'”
Twelve years later, former Gilroy High girls basketball and softball coach Gena Gonzales (formerly Sakahara) said that same game is still a subject her family doesn’t talk about. Her brother Tim was the Gilroy player covering Neufield, who now plays for the Buffalo Bills, on the final touchdown pass.
“I’m not kidding,” said Gonzales, a 1991 GHS grad. “We don’t bring it up.”
On Thursday, Gilroy and Live Oak will go at it on the gridiron for the last time as league rivals. And as the rest of the 2005-2006 school year wears on, the two schools will compete for the final time in other TCAL sports. Next season, the Acorns will play in the San Jose-based Blossom Valley Athletic League (BVAL) while Gilroy will remain in the Tri-County Athletic League (TCAL).
Both sides of coaches, fans, parents and administrators would like to see the rivalry continue just as strongly after this season.
“It’s been a healthy rivalry,” said Solarsano Middle School principal Sal Tomasello, who was also the Gilroy High athletic director from 1984 to 2000. “People talk about their favorite games. It’s just a lot of what you want to see out of interscholastic athletics.”
Making the rivalry more compelling is the fact that competition between the schools in many sports has stayed about even in recent years, especially in baseball, basketball, football and softball.
Gilroy High athletic director Jack Daley, who has been at the school for 15 years, believes Gilroy and Live Oak can still maintain the rivalry through preseason games in those sports. But both the Gilroy and Morgan Hill sides question if they’ll still be able to compete with each other in football. The TCAL is an A-league, while the BVAL has A-, B- and C-league divisions. Should Live Oak end up in any division other than A, it wouldn’t be beneficial for Mustangs to play the Acorns with Live Oak’s school attendance set to decrease since the addition of Sobrato. A-League teams get more playoff points by playing other A-League teams. This year, Gilroy scheduled all A-League teams.
“It’s a health rivalry and we’ve got to look hard at whether it’s going to benefit us to play a preseason game with the size schools (we’ll have),” said Live Oak head football coach Rick Booth. “They’ll have 60 or 70 on their roster and we’re going to be lucky to have 40.”
Said Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai, “Do you sacrifice possible playoffs or not for the sake of having a rivalry?”
For this Thursday’s game, playoffs hang in the balance. And that might be the last time that will happen in a Gilroy/Live Oak showdown.
“The thought that it’s probably not going to be the last (football) game of the season is kind of a bummer.” Gonzales said. “(The rivalry) definitely loses some of its luster.”
Additionally, Gonzales sees the rivalry as a sign of the times.
“I think kids will still show up. But I wonder, in six years are they still going to show up? Unless it’s mutli-generational, it won’t get passed on,” Gonzales said. “It’s small-town to have the rivalry that your parents and grandparents can talk about. It’s an indication that the two towns are starting to get bigger.”