STOCKTON -- It's not often Trent Merzon has his team take a few days to savor a victory. Usually, a win just sets up another big game.
This win Friday night did that, too, but Merzon told his Mustangs to enjoy themselves laugh, cry or jump around, whatever came to mind first after beating Vista del Lago 22-9 for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 championship.
"Too often at Oakdale, we don't really get to enjoy what we've just done," said Merzon, who became the school's winningest coach earlier this season. "The expectations are so high in town. Win one game and then the attention shifts to the next."
"I'm not thinking about our next game. I'll enjoy this, then start thinking about the possible NorCal game later, on Sunday."
That's when the 10 section commissioners gather to select 10 teams for the NorCal bowls there are five games, with the Mustangs (13-1) a candidate for the D2 Bowl. Its foe likely would be Clayton Valley (12-1), with one of the state's stars in Joe Protheroe (3,000 yards rushing).
"It's a great opportunity, and we love the chance to play more football," said Nikk Ryan, whose bruising second-half runs had Vista's defense on its heels. "We wanted to run at them, softening them up. Power football. That's what Oakdale has always done."
Oakdale took few chances on offense a heavy helping of Ryan running up the middle and the occasional sweep because it realized it wouldn't have to.
"Early on, we could see that we were getting a phenomenal effort from this defense," said Merzon, whose unit forced five turnovers, blocked two punts and held Vista to 14 yards in the second half. "Let those guys go out and win the game. That was the way we were looking at it."
Vista had averaged 42 points and 380 yards through its first 13 games, but finished with just 146 yards. It's only TD was set up by a punt return to the Oakdale 1.
It was a strategy Oakdale has employed during these last three rounds of the playoffs. The wins over Benicia (35-12) and American Canyon (42-19) also saw Oakdale get out to a quick lead, then rely on its methodical Wing-T to grind out the win.
This victory did have a couple of crowd-pleasing plays, though:
Physical, 6-foot-3 receiver Austin Jones scored on a 21-yard TD catch, ripping the ball away from the defender as the two battled in the end zone.
Marcus Northcutt snuck out of the backfield to run a wheel route down the left sideline, and the Vista linebacker was late. Northcutt caught the ball on the run and jumped into the end zone for a 30-yard TD and a 22-3 lead in the third quarter.
And Ryan, who became the starting fullback a few weeks into this season, took over the game in the second half with his physical runs. He opened the second half with two runs for 60 yards, and Vista spent the rest of the night trying to contain him.
Ryan, like his coach, doesn't want to think about a potential NorCal bowl for a few days.
"Winning this championship, it means a lot to us, a lot to the town," said Ryan, while hugging his teammates. "People expected us to win this. That put some pressure on us. But it's Oakdale.
"Most of us grow up watching Oakdale win football games. It feels good to think now there are kids up there watching us win."
Oakdale picks off tipped pass
Oakdale defense records a sack
Oakdale hooks up on scoring play
Oakdale defense records safety
Oakdale had good game through air
Oakdale blocks a Vista del Lago punt
Oakdale's Eddie Machado returns pick for TD