Oakdale High's football program has been built on decades of tradition and a handful of successful coaches. The Mustangs have played for 10 Sac-Joaquin Section titles, and they'll play in their 11th final Friday at Lincoln High.
It's what happens once the Mustangs get to championship games that defies the decades of winning. They've won just two of 10 trips to the final, but they're heavy favorites to win the Division 3 crown this fall.
Oakdale won titles in 1996 (28-21 over Oak Ridge in OT) and 2007 (34-27 over Whitney), but there has been plenty of anguish before, between and after the championships. Only Calaveras, 0-for-8, has suffered as many losses in the finals.
The players on this year's team endured losses to Del Oro the last two years, and there were back-to-back losses in 2003 (27-7 to Colfax) and 2004 (20-6 to Rio Linda). Oakdale took consecutive trips in 1983 (57-7 to El Dorado) and 1984 (6-0 to El Camino in OT), as well.
Oakdale's had a number of talented teams, but they would run into teams that were too quick, too strong. Perhaps this team, which tackles better than any in recent memory and has a dynamic QB capable of running and throwing for TDs, can end the troubles.
Its defense punished one of the state's elite runners and forced four turnovers in Friday's 42-19 rout of American Canyon, and was close to flawless on all but a handful of plays. A long kick return and a few long pass plays were the extent of the offense for American Canyon, a lightning-quick team averaging 41 points and 416 yards each week.
What makes Oakdale the favorite is that it possesses a methodical run game to pair with its defense. Nikk Ryan, Marcus Northcutt and QB Spencer Thomas combined for 193 yards on 42 runs only five of those carries topped 10 yards.
Oakdale might not score fast, but it's become a ball hog. While scoring 35 points in a 12-minute span Friday, American Canyon managed just seven snaps.
A power-running game is a trait Oakdale shares with the other two Stanislaus District teams playing for a title at Lincoln Central Catholic plays Escalon for a Division 4 championship Saturday at 1 p.m. in Stockton.
Each runs with attitude, stacking the offense with five strong linemen, before adding a physical fullback and tight ends built like tanks. Strength is the top criteria for earning a spot on their offensive lines:
Oakdale overpowered American Canyon's finesse run game and one of the state's best in Jomon Dotson, who averaged 13 yards a carry, but averaged just 2.3 yards on his 16 carries Friday.
Escalon, which opened the season with a 34-32 loss to Los Banos, rode fullback Nathan Chunn (26 carries, 121 yards, four TDs) to a 42-35 win over Los Banos in a four-overtime thriller. He carried defenders into the end zone for two of the the three TDs in overtime.
Central Catholic, its one-two punch among the best in the section, piled up 254 yards rushing for a 34-13 win over Center. Ray Lomas and Rey Vega each ran for at least 100 yards, the fifth time in the last six weeks they have done that behind CC's big line.
In an era when QBs toss it 30 or 40 times a game, and offenses go sideline to sideline to better feature athletic skill players, the district's three playoff survivors defy the norm.
A loss this weekend ends everyone's season, but a win would propel Central Catholic and Oakdale into Northern California Bowls.
CalHiSports has Central atop its top-ranked poll and considers the Raiders the favorite to win it all. Should the Raiders topple their nemesis Escalon beat it in the playoffs the last two seasons they would face McClymonds (9-3) or Ferndale (11-1).
If Oakdale wins a section title, it can expect to play the North Coast champion (Clayton Valley is 11-1 and the top seed). Oakdale is No. 3 in CalHi's D3 NorCal poll, but the top two are from the North Coast so one of the teams will lose.
Escalon (11-2) is the only one of the three that would have to fight its way into a bowl. The North Coast is a lock for one of two spots in the D3 Bowl El Cerrito (13-0) and Marin Catholic (12-1) meet next week for a title and Escalon would be in a tight vote with the Northern Section champ.
California's 10 section commissioners vote on the bowl teams, and Escalon's state title team of 2010 and the great support that came with it will carry some weight in that vote.
Division 1(at Sacramento State, 7:30 p.m.)
No. 5 Granite Bay (10-3)vs. No. 3 Oak Ridge (12-1)
Division 3(at Lincoln-Stockton, 7:30 p.m.)
No. 2 Vista del Lago (12-1) vs. No. 1 Oakdale (12-1)
Division 2(at Sacramento State, 7:30 p.m.)
No. 3 Elk Grove (12-1) vs. No. 1 Folsom (13-0)
Division 4(at Lincoln-Stockton, 1 p.m.)
No. 8 Escalon (11-2) vs. No. 6 Central Catholic (11-2)