One year ago, Mark Butterworth spent most of his time playing tight end for the one-win Acorns, catching three passes. As the starting fullback Friday, Butterworth made the most of his responsibility and opportunity.
That was never truer than in the fourth quarter of Friday’s sixth annual El Toro Bowl between Sobrato and Live Oak. With strong running, Butterworth took over the final quarter, accounting for 15 Live Oak points to help erase an early 20-0 deficit to beat Sobrato 23-20.
But it was his final carry that will be his most memorable. With Sobrato expecting a pass on first down at the 28-yard line, Butterworth's name was called. On a simple draw up the middle, Butterworth found an open lane to the end zone and Live Oak's first lead.
When he crossed the goal line, less than two minutes remained in the game.
“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen,” said wide receiver Dominic Maciel, who finished with three catches for 62 yards for Live Oak.
The Acorns have now won three-consecutive El Toro Bowl titles.
Butterworth was the star in the comeback victory, rushing for 145 yards on only nine carries, scoring two touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes.
“I’ve been working hard all summer for this,” he said. “The coaches have really taught me how to run the ball. I just kept my shoulders down and popped the hole. And my lineman blocked for me most importantly.”
With last year’s sophomore of the year Trevor Bearden, who was limited to 37 yards on 12 carries, nursing a lower body injury, Butterworth became the Acorns featured back in the game’s final moments.
“He really has been working hard the past year,” head coach Mike Gemo said. “It just shows what hard work can do. He ran great for us. He is a determined kid.”
Despite the exciting end for the Acorns, the game didn’t start well. Sobrato started the game swarming the football, causing Live Oak quarterback Taylor Turnipseed to turn the ball over in three consecutive drives. Twice, Sobrato made Live Oak pay.
Sobrato’s first points came nearly eight minutes into the game, after Turnipseed was intercepted by Miguel Redmond, who stepped in front of a pass down the middle of the field. Just a few plays later, senior Drew Glines scored from four yards out. Sobrato continued to pile on in the second quarter, adding two more touchdowns, starting with an interception by Dresden Redfield at the Acorn 20-yard line.
Four plays later – on fourth down - Michael Bocksnick, who finished 5-for-21 for 66 yards and two touchdowns, found Nick Hardy wide open on the left flat. Hardy avoided one tackle and strolled into the end zone.
“We started out really good,” Bocksnick said. “We got some turnovers and we put points on the board.”
After another Bulldog touchdown two minutes later, though, the game changed dramatically.
On the first play from scrimmage following the Sobrato score, Live Oak finally found a big offensive play. On a slant pattern from Ben Nuno, Turnipseed threw a pinpoint pass leading Nuno down field. Nuno broke one tackle and ran 52 yards for a touchdown.
Sobrato quickly responded but stalled after a foul nullified another touchdown. From there, Live Oak controlled the game.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” Sobrato head coach Nick Borello said. “They scored nine (points) from there. It was 23 unanswered points we gave up. We didn’t recover from that. “
Live Oak relied on its defense to keep them in the game, while the offense searched its footing. Thanks to strong play from the team’s secondary and defensive line, Live Oak did just that, limiting Sobrato to only 233 yards of total offense.
“Our defense played phenomenal,” Gemo said. “We knew what they were doing and the kids just battled. And they made the plays when they needed to.”
Despite forcing only one turnover, Live Oak never allowed Sobrato to drive the length of the field to score. The longest Bulldog drive went for a little more than 40 yards.
“The defense really stepped up for us today,” Bearden said. “They did a good job.”
The victory further validates the renewed season for the 3-0 Acorns coming off of last year’s 1-9 finish. It should only motivate them to be better, Gemo said.
“It’s just a good start for us,” he said. “We’ve played three really good ‘A’ teams. And we want to go win our league and go to CCS.”
Sobrato will hope to use the loss as an early-season learning lesson, Borello said.
“We have to use it to get better,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s all for nothing. The El Toro Bowl is a nice, fun title to have for bragging rights but it’s not the end-all, be-all of our schedule. We have the league schedule in front of us. Learning how to play games like this and learning how to get better will help us grab one of those playoff seeds.”
Both teams have a bye next week before beginning the Blossom Valley Athletic League season. Sobrato will travel to Willow Glen on Sept. 28. Live Oak will host Mt. Pleasant on the same day.