FOOTBALL: Connect four

Gilroy beat Live Oak 56-37 in their previous meeting on Sept. 2, 2011. The teams will meet again Aug. 31 in Morgan Hill. Live Oak will visit Christopher the following week, while Gilroy visits Sobrato.

Sobrato is five months away from its inaugural season as a member of the Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division, but the Bulldogs are already enjoying the perks of being an A league football team.

“Everyone wants to play us now in nonleague. It’s a lot different,” Sobrato coach Nick Borello said in March. “I don’t know if they expect us to be an easy win or not. If that’s the case, they’re in for a disappointment.”

Traditional powers that turned down scheduling Sobrato in the past have suddenly opened their doors to the Bulldogs, who are coming off a 7-0 finish in the Santa Teresa Division and their first B league championship.

Tim Pierleoni has had a similar experience at Christopher High School in Gilroy. His Cougars have become a hot commodity since being named to the A division of the new equity league, which merged the Monterey Bay and Tri-County Athletic conferences.

“I had some teams to choose from,” Pierleoni said Tuesday. “I’ve had calls from some big schools like Oak Grove, Serra, Independence, Piedmont Hills. We made contact with them; they made contact with us. We were able to schedule Leland this year. It’s nice to be able to do that.”

Like in college football, teams are rewarded for tough schedules. With more A league opponents, comes more “power” points used to determine playoff seeds, and better warm-up games leading to conference play.

By striking deals to face each other this year and next, the coaches at both Gilroy and Morgan Hill schools have pulled a scheduling coup that will make the 2012 season unlike any other in South Valley history. Points, as well as rivalries old and new, will have equal stake in weeks 1 and 2, as Sobrato and Live Oak, and Christopher and Gilroy square off. The season begins Aug. 31 with Gilroy at Live Oak and Sobrato at Christopher, followed by Live Oak at Christopher on Sept. 7 and Gilroy at Sobrato on Sept. 8. The El Toro Bowl between Live Oak and Sobrato is scheduled for Sept. 14. Because Gilroy and Christopher are in the same division, they will wrap MBL play against each other in the Severance Bowl during the final week of the regular season.

While the Gilroy and Morgan Hill schools play in different leagues, their coaches have brought them together to make football an even bigger tradition for both communities.

“This is the way it should be,” Pierleoni said. “I just think because we’re so close, and me being an old Gilroy guy; I graduated there, and Live Oak was always a big rival. All the schools sort of have the same bond.”

The 2011 season was a watershed moment for a Cougars team that went 10-2 and was a win away from playing for a Central Coast Section Division III title in its second year at the varsity level. Christopher earned its first win, 63-34, over Gilroy, put a beating, 50-0, on Live Oak and lost 40-26 to Sobrato in a well-played game that was later overturned because the Bulldogs used an ineligible player.

Asked if he would be as eager to play Gilroy and the Morgan Hill schools if it meant little in terms of points, Pierleoni responded “yes” flatly.

“I hope it never comes to that,” he said, “But even if it does, those teams will always be important. The communities have been playing each other for a longtime. They deserve it.”

Sobrato and Gilroy have never played each other, but their coaches are genuinely excited for the first meeting.

“It’s nice to set up local teams with each other,” said Steven Lo, now in his second year as the Mustangs’ coach. “It’s good for the community, and it’s a big thing. Anytime you can schedule a local team that’s an A league opponent, it’s going to be huge.”

Borello tried to schedule a home-and-home series with Gilroy for 2010-11 but was turned down by then-Mustangs coach Greg Garcia. At the time, Sobrato was entering the Santa Teresa Division after a second-place finish in the C league West Valley Division.

“I walked in, and the schedule was already set,” Lo said. “(Borello) and I talked over the summer. We looked at everything and said, ‘Why not?’

“For me personally, (nonleague play) has a lot to do with getting ourselves ready for league. This will help both teams.”

Lo, whose team is coming off a 4-6 finish, didn’t scoff at Live Oak’s 1-9 mark in 2011 – the one win coming by forfeit against Sobrato, which beat the Acorns 28-21 – and relegation to the Santa Teresa Division.

“They have one of the best running backs in the Bay Area,” Lo said, referring to Live Oak junior Trevor Bearden. “I’d say that’s a good challenge. The whole A and B league stuff doesn’t matter. Everyone’s still just trying to get better and get ready for league.”

Considering their three nonleague games will come against A league schools, Mike Gemo’s Acorns may benefited the most. Live Oak will be playing for much more than the maximum amount of points.

“We’re looking forward to getting a little payback,” he said with a smile.

NOTES: The new Monterey Bay League includes Gilroy, Christopher, Palma, San Benito, Salinas, Monterey and Alvarez in the Gabilan Division, and Seaside, Watsonville, Alisal, Pajaro Valley, North Salinas, Monte Vista Christian and North Monterey County in the Pacific Division, a B league. Sobrato and Live Oak’s 2012 schedules are as follows:

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