PATTERSON — When Oakdale High left the Home Depot Center following its state bowl game last December, the Mustangs knew this year would be different.
After all, they were graduating the vast majority of the talent that brought the school its first NorCal championship.
But what didnt graduate is the foundation of the program pride and knowing how to win and both were on display in Oakdales 21-17 victory over Patterson Friday night in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 playoffs.
The Mustangs (7-4) will take their No. 13 seed into the second round of the playoffs, where theyll meet the winner of this afternoons Sacramento-Benicia game. Patterson, which started the season 9-0 for the first time in school history, finished 9-2.
There is a key to winning in the playoffs at any level. After three months together and 10 games worth of video available for anybody with the right Internet password, the teams that can get production from unexpected sources have a leg up in their effort to advance.
So while Pattersons air attack was as potent as expected, with junior Damien Paulo completing 14 of 20 passes for 244 yards and two scores, Oakdale needed to be able to answer on the ground, just to consume clock time and keep the Tigers offense off the field.
And the Mustangs did exactly that, running 56 times for 296 yards. But their leading rusher was a surprise. Baily Dryden, an undersized stalwart on the defensive line, was given a chance to shine offensively, earning a running back spot this week in Oakdales power package.
And since the Mustangs seems to spend most of the game in running mode, Dryden got a lions share of a chance. After fumbling early in the game, Dryden finished with 121 yards on nine carries.
It felt good, Dryden said. I got the opportunity and just tried to capitalize on it. I think were just as talented this year, if not more talented than last year. We just had to play hard and stick to the game plan.
The senior, who had stopped the Tigers previous drive with a third-down sack of Paulo, came up with his biggest carry with 2:24 left in the game. Oakdale, nursing the four-point lead, had a second-and-eight on its own 33, needing one more first down to ice the win. Dryden got much, much more than that, bulling over right tackle and suddenly seeing a lot of green ahead.
The senior wasnt corralled until he had rumbled to the Patterson 33, a 54-yard jaunt that prompted three game-ending kneeldowns and an Oakdale celebration.
You dont make long runs into the playoffs without having some kids make the most of opportunities they normally dont get, said Oakdale coach Trent Merzon.
High school kids sometimes dont understand that, so when they do get that opportunity theyre not ready to take advantage of it. We put him (Dryden) in tonight for the power package. He put the ball on the ground once and it didnt let it deter him. He kept banging and that last run was awesome.
Paulo and the Tigers took a 7-0 lead on their first drive, a smart five-play, 71-yard march that ended with Paulo hitting Daniel Kalepi for a 45-yard score.
Oakdale answered with a 79-yard, 13-play drive capped by Max Stevens 6-yard run. The crispness of the drive seemed to give the Mustangs a huge dose of confidence theyd never relinquish, and they rolled to a 21-7 lead by scoring on their first two possessions of the second half with Brock Whiting and impressive sophomore Darus Nelson scoring on the ground.
Needing a quick reply, Patterson went back to the air. Paulo hit Kelepi for 43 yards, then connected with Avion Warmsley for a 16-yard score with 1:59 left in the third quarter.
After forcing a quick punt, the Tigers moved into the red zone before settling for Alex Gebbings 27-yard field goal with 9:44 left, pulling them within 21-17.
Thats an eternity in football, especially for a team capable of a quick air strike. But Patterson would get only three snaps the rest of the way, and two of those ended with Paulo getting sacked.
Our kids left everything out there, said Tigers coach Nick Marchy. Oakdale knows how to win football games, and its why they keep doing it. Were trying to get to that place, and were getting closer.
Yes, Oakdale has been here before. They know the route. And in crunch time, they were aware of exactly what needed to be done.
We were told through the game to just keep the quarterback contained and we werent doing our job completely, Dryden said. But that was the game plan and we were able to not panic and do it in that last drive.
We had some confidence issues earlier this season, but now I think were finally starting to realize how good we can be.