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UPDATED: Bears remain undefeated after defensive battle against Live Oak
There were three constants in the Sacramento Valley League game between undefeated Pierce High and Live Oak; Andy Corona on the ground, Romario Acosta through the air and the Lions' inability to avoid penalties.
Corona powered Pierce (9-0, 4-0 SVL) to a 14-7 victory with 33 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and Acosta kept the Lions within striking distance by completing 16 of 31 passes for 213 yards, but Live Oak (6-3, 2-2 SVL) gave the Bears too many extra opportunities by committing 13 penalties for 75 yards.
"It was a defensive stand game. We knew it was going to be hard because they came here last year and we beat them 21-20 and we knew that they were still pissed," said Pierce senior linebacker Preston Smith.
Both teams were able to move the ball between the 20-yard lines but found the red zone inhospitable until Corona punched in a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:12 left in the first half.
The Bears forced Live Oak to punt on the next drive, but the ball and the Lions' punt coverage arrived at Oscar Sanchez at the same time and Live Oak's Tristen Tew recovered the muffed punt on the Pierce 31-yard line with 54 seconds left in the half.
Acosta completed passes of 25 yards and 10 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Tyler Raymond with two seconds left in the half, tying the game at 7-7.
Pierce chewed nearly six minutes off the clock on a 12-play, 57-yard drive that Corona punctuated with a 4-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 lead on the first drive of the second half.
"It felt like we were on defense forever and then to have to do that, it gets tiring, but that's what practice does for us, it's all just athleticism," said Pierce center Robert Cross.
As has been the case all season, the Bears relied heavily on their power running game. Quarterback Nate Smith handed the ball to Corona 33 times, running the dive play in behind Cross to bring the Lions defense in tight before springing Joey Hernandez free on runs to the outside.
"We knew our dive was going to help us out a lot this game. At the half we made some really good adjustments and that's when we just kept their defense guessing," Corona said.
The Bears held Live Oak to just 5 yards of offense in the third quarter, as both the Lions' drives ended in three-and-outs.
Acosta found Raymond on a 44-yard screen pass on the Lion's first drive of the fourth quarter and Live Oak once again reached the red zone, but Pierce defensive back Jesus Huerta jumped a route and returned an interception 33 yards the other way.
"Usually they have their slot (receiver) running an out and their flanker running that streak, I read that out and I just broke on the ball," Huerta said.
Huerta's interception allowed the Bears to run more than two minutes off the clock and forced Live Oak to use all of its timeouts.
The drive ended at Live Oak's 12-yard line when the Bears settled for a field goal attempt which was missed wide right, setting up an 80-yard two-minute drill for the Lions.
Acosta drove the Lions to the Bears' 42-yard line, but the drive sputtered out against the stingy Pierce defense and Nate Smith took a knee with 28 seconds left to end it.
Joey Hernandez carried the ball four times for 75 yards for Pierce. Sanchez led the Bears with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, Preston Smith added nine tackles and forced a fumble, and Ryan Hunt had a sack for the Bears defense. The Pierce offense had 229 rushing yards and 21 yards passing.
Raymond finished with 13 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown, and caught seven passes for 103 yards. Kirk Thao and Anthony Hernandez had sacks for the Lions. The Live Oak offense had 103 yards rushing and 213 yards passing.
The victory by Pierce sets up a pivotal showdown against Willows (6-3, 4-0 SVL) in Arbuckle on Friday. Not only is the Bears undefeated season on the line, whichever team wins that game will take home the league title.
Last year the Bears won the first game against the Honkers 35-14 but Willows came back and ended Pierce's season in the playoffs with a 29-15 victory.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.