Live Oak completes incredible rally at Christopher, wins league crown. ‘This was our Super Bowl’

Live Oak overcomes a 21-point deficit against previously unbeaten Christopher to finish the regular season 9-0.

GILBERT — Unfazed by a 21-point deficit just seven minutes into the game, the Live Oak football team rallied to defeat Christopher 28-24 in a game between undefeated teams from neighboring towns in front of a sold-out crowd at Christopher.

“Unbelievable game,” said Live Oak coach Mike Gemo. “This has been a long-standing rivalry between Christopher and Live Oak.” It all comes down to games like this, two teams and two groups of kids who know each other and enjoy competing.”

Live Oak (9-0, 5-0) wins the Blossom Valley Athletic League Mt. Hamilton Division championship, the top division in the BVAL’s 24-team league. Christopher (9-1, 4-1) just missed out.

“If Live Oak and Christopher played 10 times in a year, it would probably end up 5-5,” Christopher coach Darren Yafai said. “This time they got us. We are very proud of our children. They gave it their all until the very end.”

Will Rizqallah, who finished with 171 yards rushing on 22 carries, broke a 67-yard run on the game’s second play to put Christopher up early.

On the first play, Live Oak fumbled a handoff, and Devin Rios recovered for the Cougars. Jaxen Robinson hit Terrence Barnes for an 18-yard touchdown pass just a few minutes into the game to make it 14-0.

Then, with 5:00 left in the first quarter, Christopher put together an 11-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Josiah Garcia scoring on an 18-yard run to make it 21-0.

At that point, the question was how Live Oak would react. Christian Hauge responded quickly. Hauge, the Central Coast Section 100-meter champion as a junior last spring, took a handoff on a jet sweep and flew 47 yards for the Acorns’ first points.

In the second quarter, a sack by Zurik Peery forced a Christopher punt from deep in its own territory, and Live Oak took over at the Christopher 38. Luke Newell connected with Robbie Rael for an 11-yard touchdown pass four plays later. The score was 21-14 when the battle began.

“We’ve been putting in the work since summer ball,” said defensive end and wide receiver Luke Richey. “We’re the best conditioned team in the league.”

Christopher led 24-14 at halftime thanks to Rylan Antipuesto’s 34-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter.

The second half, on the other hand, belonged to Live Oak, which relied on its bread and butter, the power ground attack, to move the ball and keep it away from the home team. Live Oak came in averaging 237 yards rushing per game. On Friday, they finished with 233 points.

Live Oak took the second-half kickoff and drove 62 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 10-yard run by hard-running workhorse running back Josh Gagni (26 carries, 136 yards).

In the third quarter, there were only two possessions. As the quarter came to a close, Christopher went on an 11-play drive that ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the 4.

The Acorns then marched 96 yards in 13 plays, 12 of which were rushing, with Anden Rogers scoring on a 2-yard run to take a 28-24 lead with 4:54 remaining. During that drive, they switched to a single-wing formation, with Rogers taking the snap at tailback.

“He’s our backup quarterback, a sophomore, and he does a good job of running that offense for us,” said Gemo.

Christopher drove from its own 24 to the Live Oak 6, where middle linebacker Zach Rocha intercepted Robinson’s pass, which was gunned into a crowd of players at the goal line.

“I got smacked, but I held onto it,” Rocha explained.

Christopher regained possession of the ball and advanced to the Live Oak 19 before time expired.

Then it was time for a Live Oak celebration to recognize the significance of the victory.

“This was our Super Bowl,” said Rocha.

“I grew up with some of those guys, went to elementary and middle school with them,” said Richey. “At the end of the day it’s all love.”

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