The Live Oak football team entered Friday night squarely on the Class 5A playoff bubble, knowing a home victory over District 4-5A rival Central would get the Eagles into the postseason and a loss would almost certainly leave them out.
Central knew its season, no matter the outcome, had 48 minutes remaining.
The team with seemingly less on the line proved up to the challenge as the Wildcats, outside of the playoff picture for the first time under coach Sid Edwards, rumbled into the offseason with a 35-7 win.
“It’s just Central pride,” Edwards said. “All we had left was to play for each other and to play for pride, and that’s pretty powerful. I thought the kids played for each other tonight, and I’m awfully proud of them.”
Central (4-6 overall, 2-4 in 4-5A) used two big plays to take a 14-7 lead into halftime with Jearimiah Ward returning an interception 26 yards for a score and Justin Vessel racing 39 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt.
Then the Wildcats put the game in the hands of senior running back Leo Brownfield and an offensive line Edwards calls his “Five Blocks of Granite.”
Brownfield finished with 115 yards on 14 carries after managing only 9 yards on four carries in the first half. Quarterback Tyler Sansone ran for two touchdowns after halftime before connecting with Terrell Chatman on a 36-yard strike for the final margin.
Despite all that, the Wildcats — who had won at least a share of six straight district titles — knew this would be their last night of the season.
“We were playing for pride and for our teammates and the city of Central,” Brownfield said. “We kind of got in our minds that if we couldn’t make the playoffs, nobody can.”
Live Oak coach Tut Musemeche had the Eagles (4-6, 2-4) in position to make the playoffs entering the final week for the third time in as many seasons.
After qualifying for the postseason in Musemeche’s first season, Live Oak has fallen one win short the past two.
“We’re taking steps, and I think everybody knows that,” Musemeche said. “To be in this position each of the last three years where Week 10 matters, that’s a big step. Now we’re going to take the next one.”
Hopes of a Live Oak playoff berth were alive and well after the Eagles put together a textbook 18-play, 76-yard scoring drive to get off the mat after falling behind 14-0. Taking over with 6:41 to play in the half, Live Oak converted four fourth downs en route to a 3-yard score by Will Higginbotham, who extended to reach the front-left pylon with 4 seconds left.
But the Wildcats got the ball to start the second half and quickly stretched the lead to 21-7 on Sansone’s first TD run.
“That is a talented team that was getting it together at the end part of the year,” Musemeche said of Central. “Their talent made plays.”
Edwards said he would remember this Central team not for its failure to make the playoffs but for the fight it showed down the stretch.
“Championships are determined by records and such, but this is a championship football team,” Edwards said. “For what they’ve been through and that they’re still standing, they’re champions.”