For the first time this century, Livermore High has reached the six-win mark during the regular season, and the Cowboys are not done yet. In fact, many would also say that they have arrived a year ahead of schedule, relying largely on a junior class which saw great success at the lower levels to post a 6-2 mark through the first eight games of the year.
"Our juniors and sophomore we have starting for us, they have carried the same expectation to the varsity level that they had while they winning at the lower levels," said Livermore coach John Wade. "We have really rallied and played as a group. That's been the big thing."
This year's junior class posted an 18-2 record combined in the previous two years, and that winning mindset has paid dividends in close games this year. It came through first in a non-league win over Windsor, who will likely be the third-place team in the NBL-Oak, that league's top division. A month later, the Cowboys put Dublin away with a late touchdown to stay unbeaten in EBAL-Valley action.
"The Windsor game was a real benchmark game for us, and one where the cards were stacked against us," Wade commented. "They are a senior-laden team, they were christening a new field, and there were tons of reasons why we should have lost that game. But we did not let it deter us."
Now, the Cowboys are in a situation where they control their own destiny for a league title, with massive games against cross-town rival Granada and then division co-leader Amador Valley in the next two weeks. A win this Friday against the Matadors would set the stage for a battle of unbeatens in league play next week.
"Our staff conveyed the message earlier, that you make these big games by winning those games earlier in the year," Wade said. "The same thing applies to this, especially during a rivalry week. We are treating each of these games like a playoff game, knowing that the stakes get higher each time you win. It would be awesome to put ourselves in that situation again next week."
The players at Livermore are embracing the same type of big-game mindset.
"Playing at home this week with a huge crowd is going to be exciting, and our focus has been on preparing to become city champions (against Granada)," said junior quarterback Shaun Smith, who has accounted for 12 touchdowns in seven games of action, missing the loss against Monte Vista with injury. "These two weeks mean everything to our team, our school, our community. All year we have been shocking people and opening eyes all around, and we plan on continuing to show them with Livermore football is all about."
The most exciting part in all this might be the improvement from top to bottom in the Cowboys' program. Entering this week, Livermore sported a combined record of 20-3 at all three levels, and added another win on Thursday when the frosh team improved to 7-1 with a 39-8 win over Granada. The junior varsity squad is 8-0, which means next year will be a year in which Livermore's sights will be set on success at the highest levels possible.
Monte Vista stays true to mindset
It has always been head coach Matt Russi's preference to put pressure on an opposing defense. So when faced with the option of kicking a game-tying extra-point against California last week, with 25 seconds remaining in the game, Russi eschewed conventional wisdom, going for two and the win. When Jacob Oliphant dove into the end zone after taking a pitch from Jack Stewardson on jet sweep motion across the formation, Russi's gamble paid off in a 15-14 win.
"My roots are on the defensive side of the ball, so I prefer to put pressure on a defense to make a play in a big situation," Russi said. "As soon as we scored, there was no hesitation in what we wanted to do as a coaching staff. We also figured that, with how physical they are and how well they run the ball, we were better off going for the win right then rather than playing them on a short field in overtime."
The win leaves Monte Vista in the driver's seat for what Russi referred to as the pseudo EBAL-Mountain title, since De La Salle gets the automatic berth from the league for NCS purposes, but is not eligible to be considered the league champion.
Hall playing beyond his years
He's just a freshman, but St. Vincent de Paul running back Kai Hall continues to put on veteran performances to lead the Mustangs to a 8-1 record. So far this season, Hall has racked up 1,414 yards on the ground to go with 16 touchdowns, on just 139 carries, averaging over 10 yards per attempt. As a result, St. Vincent has won six straight games headed to its regular season finale against California School for the Deaf this Friday, and appears headed for at least a top-five seed in the NCS playoffs.
Chase Sims of James Logan and Makhi Gervais of Clayton Valley are the only other two backs in the NCS to be over the 1,000-yard mark at this point of the season.
Liberty suffered its first loss of the season last week to Pittsburg, falling 24-21 to the one-loss Pirates in a game that should ultimately decide the BVAL title. If both teams win out, however, and perform as expected in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs, a rematch in the section semifinals is likely.
Las Lomas and Piner now remain as the two lone unbeaten teams in the section.
Hard work pays off
Freedom earned its first win of the season, holding off Heritage 14-9 with a late goal-line stand against an intra-district rival. The Falcons can actually still become playoff-eligible with wins in their last two games.
Winless teams which could realistically be involved in close games this week include Irvington, who faces American, and Montgomery, though the Vikings' game against El Molino has been tentatively rescheduled for Saturday due to air quality issues.