OAKDALE Head coach Trent Merzon returned to the Mustangs' sideline following halftime, fiddled with his headset and then said to nobody in particular, "Are we any good? Can you tell?"
How's this for an answer, Coach?
Merzon's Oakdale team erupted for 26 unanswered points en route to their first victory of the season a 40-9 route of Paraclete (Lancaster) Friday night at The Corral.
"I think we're pretty good," Merzon answered himself after the game. "I thought we showed some real character tonight."
Forgive Merzon if he was searching for answers. The Mustangs, winless in two games this year, held a 13-9 lead at the intermission thanks to a pair of Max Stevens touchdowns but they often seemed on the brink of losing control.
The Spirits (2-2) scored first, chewing up nearly 5 minutes of clock as they marched 94 yards for the score a 13-yard burst from Melquise Stovall capped the drive. Then, on three different occasions, Paraclete converted on third-and-20 or longer. Another time, facing first-and-25, the Spirits picked up a first down. Quarterback Brett Nelson was 10-of-14 for 176 yards, and moving the ball seemed all too easy.
All that changed with 4:40 to play in the half. Tied 6-6, safety Tanner Morgan intercepted Nelson in the end zone and returned it to Oakdale's 31. So instead of taking a 13-6 lead, Paraclete soon found itself trailing 13-6.
"I read his eyes all the way," Morgan said of Nelson. "I noticed watching film that he was looking for one receiver. "
The second half with Merzon in his existential quandary began with Paraclete setting up at its own 40. Nelson dropped back to pass on the first play of the third quarter and blindsided by linebacker Brynden McAndrews. The ball flew about 10 feet into the air and defensive tackle Wyatt Hjelm pounced on it.
"Well, first off, Nick Ruiz got inside and took their tackle off me," said McAndrews, who later recovered a Paraclete fumble in the end zone for a TD. "I don't make that play without him.
"At first, I thought he was going to (hand it off), but when I saw that the quarterback had I just tried to make a play."
Just like that, a switch had been flipped.
"I don't know if a switch was flipped because our switch was on," said Merzon. "I think something happened to their switch."
Perhaps unnerved by the pressure that had been nonexistent for a portion of the first half, Nelson failed to complete a pass in the second except for the two he completed to Oakdale players Kevin Corral and another to Morgan.
Brock Whiting (18 carries, 106 yards) delivered a pair of second-half TDs, while Stevens scored his third when he hauled in a Dillon Tamburrino TD pass for the second time on the night. Tyler Williams carried the ball 11 times for 94 yards.