Football

High school football: Five takeaways from 48th Wedemeyer game

LOS GATOS — The 48th edition of the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara County all-star football game was the epitome of a defensive struggle.  

In a game drenched by rain, beset by walls of wind that knocked back punts for negative yardage, and which featured more fumbles than completed passes, Xavier Catano’s touchdown reception felt like it was worth far more than six points on Saturday night. 

The Live Oak player somehow handled the short pitch from Lincoln-San Jose quarterback Tayden Philips, cut upfield without slipping, followed his blocks, and broke the plane for the only touchdown with 11:55 left in the second quarter of the South’s 9-0 win over the North. 

“I think it was just meant for me and I had to push that through, and we came out with the touchdown,” Catano said about his three-yard run across the goal line. “We had it sinking in that it was our last game.”

Despite the miserable weather, hundreds came out to Los Gatos High — where Wedemeyer coached for years — to support the seniors from Santa Clara County schools.

After being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1977, Wedemeyer battled the disease for 32 years before he died in 2010.

Proceeds from the game were donated to the ALS Foundation and Coaches Against Cancer.

The game was traditionally played in the summer but was moved to winter in 2020. The only year it has not been played since its inception was 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The South now holds a 25-19-4 lead in the series. 

Here are five takeaways from the game:

DEFENSE RULES THE DAY

Steven Anaya, 27, of Archbishop Mitty, tackles Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Steven Anaya, 27, of Archbishop Mitty, tackles Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

In a game that saw the first five possessions end in a punt, consecutive lost fumbles, a missed field goal and a negative three-yard punt, it became apparent fairly early on that defense was going to play a starring role in the game. 

On one play, Del Mar’s Josh Villareal sacked the quarterback. In the second half, South defensive back Josh Reyes of Santa Teresa knocked away a pass that seemed destined for a 30-yard completion. On one of many special teams plays, Pioneer’s Ryan Given blocked a punt. 

Among the best defenders on the South team was Overfelt linebacker Quinton Togia’i, who consistently plugged holes in the run game. 

One of the biggest plays of Togia’i’s night came late in the first quarter when he tackled a North ballcarrier for a loss on second-and-short. 

After the third-down play went nowhere, the North’s punt went backward and set up the South’s five-play, 14-yard touchdown drive.

Once Christopher kicker Alan Canales nailed a 22-yard field goal to make it 9-0 midway through the second period, Togia’i and his teammates’ confidence was high, with his opponent completing only three passes for 14 yards all night.

If there’s any stat that epitomizes the stranglehold defense had on the game, it’s this one: 

There were five possessions that began and ended in the third quarter. There were more punts (four) than yards gained (negative-25). 

“We were just having fun,” Togia’i said. 

After Catano’s touchdown, neither team had a drive longer than seven plays and 25 yards. The longest play was the weaving 27-yard scramble by Nate Escalada, a Bellarmine quarterback, that got the ball to the five-yard line and set up Canales’ kick. Neither team got inside the opposing 30-yard line in the second half.

CHARLIE’S LEGACY AT LOS GATOS

Lucy Wedemeyer hugs a player after the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Lucy Wedemeyer hugs a player after the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

During pregame introductions, Charlie’s wife Lucy Wedemeyer greeted each of the game’s 87 players at midfield. She, along with former Los Gatos star and NFL linebacker Kiko Alonso and 49ers legend Ronnie Lott, had spoken to the players at a banquet earlier in the week about her late husband and what the sport meant to Charlie.

“Charlie didn’t give up, and that’s such a beautiful lesson for these kids,” Lucy Wedemeyer said. “We were blessed to have Ronnie Lott speak at our event the other night, and he imparted so much of that wisdom to these young men about their future and what they represent.”

For Los Gatos’ players, they needed no such introduction to who the legendary coach was. Decades after he coached his last varsity game, Wedemeyer’s legacy still looms large over the program.

“From our freshman year, we learn about Charlie and his story,” Los Gatos offensive lineman Will Cohen said. “To be invited out to play, it’s just truly an honor.”

That respect for the late Wedemeyer is due in large part to Mark Krail, the current Los Gatos football coach who has made it his mission to make sure the man is never forgotten at the school. 

“We’re just trying to uphold his tradition, his reputation,” Krail said. “Our guys at Los Gatos see his name every single day, and his name is very important to our program. ”

MITTY’S MIRACLE MEN ENJOY ONE MORE MOMENT

Wills Towers (6), of Archbishop Mitty, runs with the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Wills Towers (6), of Archbishop Mitty, runs with the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Few teams in Central Coast Section history engineered the kind of one-year turnaround Archbishop Mitty enjoyed in 2022. 

After eking out a single win during the 2021 spring and fall seasons, the Monarchs went 9-4 and won two overtime games in the CCS playoffs before bowing out to Serra in the Division I championship. 

Mitty had six players suit up for the Wedemeyer all-star game.

Quarterback Wills Towers and receiver Ben Kim couldn’t quite recreate their passing connection in the torrential rain and gusting winds at Los Gatos, with the pair unable to complete a pass on the North all-stars.

But even though the duo did not team up for one more touchdown, the two friends still enjoyed having a final opportunity to share the field with one another. 

“Oh man, it was fun, it was special,” Kim said while smiling from ear to ear. “Obviously the conditions weren’t great, and we didn’t pass much, but getting to experience this with him was amazing. So I’m grateful.”

Even though Towers nor his five other high school teammates at the game studied at Los Gatos, the magnitude of the invite was not lost on the young man. 

“I was so honored when I was selected,” Towers said. “I looked into his story, and you know, it’s so inspiring. I felt honored to be on this field and play under his name.”

HOW TO PLAY IN THE RAIN

Xavier Catano (0), of Live Oak High School, does a backflip after the South team won in the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Xavier Catano (0), of Live Oak High School, does a backflip after the South team won in the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Although a few fans in the stands grinned and celebrated the idea of playing a game “in real football weather,” the unique conditions made even the most routine actions seem risky and turned the game into a slow battle for field position. 

While his teammates (and opponents) struggled to hold onto the ball, Catano’s touchdown was in many ways the byproduct of some quick thinking. 

“I had to keep my gloves dry,” Catano said while gesturing with both gloved-up hands stretched out. “I got my towel out here too, but now it’s soaking wet.”

A slew of talented runners, including but not limited to Lincoln-San Jose’s Sal Espinosa, Westmont’s Jacob Lang, Live Oak’s Jordan Fuentes and Mt. Pleasant’s Skyden Shugen had to fight for every yard they gained. 

As offenses slogged through the waterlogged conditions, the defensive players thrived. 

“It was just fun, like being a kid again and playing at recess,” Togia’i said.  

Lucy Wedemeyer said she could not recall rain being a part of any of the other previous editions of the Wedemeyer all-star game.

EXTRACURRICULARS

Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, throws the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, throws the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Halftime saw cheerleading and dance routines followed by a special announcement by Krail. 

He and Lucy Wedemeyer awarded three outstanding seniors with awards. 

Krail’s Los Gatos running back Emiliano Mejia received the “Beyond Extraordinary” award.

Next up was Phillips, who was honored with the “Charlie Wedemeyer Never Give Up” award.

Lastly, Given from Pioneer received the “Exceptional Spirit” award. 

Wedemeyer Classic: South 9, North 0

Cheerleaders react the rain and wind during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Cheerleaders react the rain and wind during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
Zach Fagin, of Los Altos High School, catches the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Zach Fagin, of Los Altos High School, catches the ball during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
Steven Anaya, 27, of Archbishop Mitty, tackles Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Steven Anaya, 27, of Archbishop Mitty, tackles Tayden Phillips, 7, of Lincoln High School, during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
Football players make bunny ears during a group photo after the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Football players make bunny ears during a group photo after the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
Frankie Delgado (57), of Gilroy High School, hugs Lucy Wedemeyer during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)Frankie Delgado (57), of Gilroy High School, hugs Lucy Wedemeyer during the Charlie Wedemeyer Santa Clara classic at Los Gatos high school in Los Gatos, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

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