High School Football

Finals week, long trip add to Oakdale’s CIF State Bowl challenge

Oakdale’s Bronson Harmon (22) runs a sweep during the Mustangs Division III-A NorCal Championship Game win over Sutter, 27-10, at Oakdale High School in Oakdale, Ca. on Dec. 10, 2016.
Oakdale’s Bronson Harmon (22) runs a sweep during the Mustangs Division III-A NorCal Championship Game win over Sutter, 27-10, at Oakdale High School in Oakdale, Ca. on Dec. 10, 2016. jwestberg@modbee.com

Oakdale High School’s Trent Merzon peppered his postgame huddle with a customary line Saturday night: “Enjoy this one.”

Only it didn’t look nearly as fun for the longtime football coach, now in his 17th season at his alma mater. The reality of being a lower-division regional champion in the modern bowl system quickly set in.

The Mustangs had just captured the CIF Northern California Division III-A crown in stunning fashion, delivering a 21-point flurry in the fourth quarter.

Sprawled on the canvas: Sutter, the Northern Section heavyweight and 13-game winner. The Huskies came within 12 minutes of their first NorCal victory and State Bowl berth when The Corral shook.

Linebacker Jace Krick robbed Tyler Reynolds on the first play of the fourth quarter, stepping in front of a pass into the flat. Krick rode the gas pedal into the end zone, drowning out the noise from a capacity home crowd as he finished a 78-yard sprint.

“In those moments, you hear nothing as you’re going,” Krick said.

That play made all the difference for the Mustangs, whose vaunted wing-T, held out of the end zone for most of the game, could suddenly do no wrong. Will Semone rushed for 303 yards and three touchdowns, including two within a two-minute span in the fourth quarter, as the Mustangs shored up their second CIF State appearance in five seasons.

Oakdale (13-2) will play The Bishop’s School (14-0) on Saturday at 6 p.m. and will have to travel a great distance. The game will be played in Bishop’s backyard – La Jolla High in sunny San Diego.

Enjoy this one tonight? That message was for Merzon’s players and assistant coaches. He was already worried about laundry and logistics.

“We’ve got kids on the team that have never seen the ocean. Swear to God,” Merzon said. “We’ve got kids that if you asked them, right now, to point to San Diego, I guarantee you they’d look at you like (puzzled, mouth agape). They’d say it’s past L.A. somewhere ... hopefully.”

For Merzon and the Oakdale administration, the thrill of Saturday’s victory gave way to the stresses of pulling off the season’s ultimate road trip. La Jolla High is 435 miles away and roughly seven hours by car, longer by bus.

Rubbing his hand over his head, Merzon wondered how his school could pull off such a feat, logistically and financially, during finals week no less.

“We’ve got work to do,” Merzon told his players. “I’ve got a lot of work to figure out. Do me a favor – enjoy tonight. We’ve got one more left, men.”

Fortunately, school officials began planning for state before Saturday’s regional round. While Merzon studied Sutter, administrators looked into hotel rates and room availability in La Jolla, just in case.

“Usually, I’m an absolute, 1,000 percent control freak,” Merzon said. “Nobody does anything for me. We had some administrators on campus looking into hotels. They tried to tell me what they were doing, and I told them I didn’t care. Now I care.”

Among the items on Merzon’s to-do list: Scout Bishop’s, which handled Valley Christian of Cerritos 28-9 in the Southern California final; set a practice schedule; finalize hotel accommodations for 49 players, plus the staff and their families, for two nights; arrange for travel to and from San Diego; and survive finals week.

Merzon understands the difficulty of all of this. He said it took months to plan the team’s summer trip to Los Angeles. This time around, he’ll have only a few days to pull it all together.

Oakdale has only one player with State Bowl experience. Semone won CIF Small-School championships with Central Catholic in 2014 and ’15. He played in the 2014 final, a 31-19 victory over St. Margaret’s of San Juan Capistrano, starting on special teams and platooning at outside linebacker. Last fall, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and watched the Raiders complete a 16-0 campaign with a 56-21 win over San Marino.

The key, he said, is to manage the moment and never allow the game to become bigger than it really is.

“This means a lot,” Semone said. “This goes to show that hard work pays off.”

Added Krick: “We deserve this.”

Punching its ticket wasn’t easy.

Oakdale beat Folsom’s Vista del Lago and Sacramento’s Christian Brothers of the Capital Athletic League, perennial Central California Conference contender Merced and Sutter. In each game, the Mustangs trailed early.

Getting to San Diego won’t be any easier, but Merzon is confident his team can negotiate the hurdles ahead.

“It will all work out,” he said.

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

CIF Division III-A State Bowl

Who: Oakdale (13-2) at Bishop’s (14-0)

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: La Jolla High School, San Diego

Enrollments: Oakdale – 1,605. Bishop’s – 800.

MaxPreps state ranking: Oakdale – 52. Bishop’s – 40.

State experience: Oakdale played Serra of Gardena in the 2012 Division II State Bowl, losing 42-15. Bishop’s defeated Brookside Christian of Stockton 40-14 in the 2010 Division IV State Bowl,.

Rosters: Oakdale – 49. Bishop’s – 25.

Pedigrees: Oakdale has won 11 of the last 14 Valley Oak League titles, four Sac-Joaquin Section titles under 17th-year coach Trent Merzon and appeared in two State Bowls in the last five years. Bishop’s has appeared in a San Diego Section final the last three years, winning titles this fall and in 2014.

Tickets: $12 for adults, $8 for high school students (with a valid ASB card), seniors (65+) and children (under age 5 free).

How they got here

Division III-A State Bowl

Oakdale 13-2 (52)

(Opponents’ average MaxPreps ranking: 271)

Aug. 26 at Sonora (140) L, 27-13

Sept. 2 Crater (n/a) W, 47-13

Sept. 16 at Campolindo (65) W, 28-21

Sept. 23 at Sierra (335) W, 28-25

Sept. 30 Kimball (651) W, 40-14

Oct. 7 at Lathrop (381) W, 42-0

Oct. 14 East Union (383) W, 42-6

Oct. 21 Weston Ranch (470) W, 39-14

Oct. 28 at Manteca (109) L, 30-22

Nov. 4 Central Catholic (87) W, 34-21

Nov. 10 McNair (502) W, 49-0

Nov. 18 Vista del Lago (230) W, 63-35

Nov. 25 Merced (154) W, 35-21

Dec. 2 Christian Brothers (189) W, 51-14

Dec. 10 Sutter (94) W, 27-10

Bishop’s 14-0 (40)

(Opponents’ average MaxPreps ranking: 426)

Aug. 26 Santana (337) W, 43-19

Sept. 2 Patrick Henry (509) W, 63-0

Sept. 17 at St. Margaret’s (214) W, 48-24

Sept. 24 Classical Academy (723) W, 49-0

Sept. 30 Santa Fe Christian (188) W, 21-0

Oct. 8 at Tri-City Christian (716) W, 42-20

Oct. 14 at Horizon Chr. Academy (631) W, 75-28

Oct. 21 at La Jolla Country Day (179) W, 37-21

Oct. 28 at Orange Glen (727) W 63-14

Nov. 4 Francis Parker (972) W, 61-0

Nov. 18 La Jolla (343) W, 49-0

Nov. 25 Valley Center (193) W, 35-19

Dec. 3 Christian (122) W, 49-20

Dec. 10 at Valley Christian (104) W, 28-9

Coaches through the Years

Division III-A State Bowl

Trent Merzon, Oakdale

2016 – 14-2 (5-0)

2015 – 12-2 (3-1)

2014 – 13-2 (4-1)

2013 – 7-5 (1-1)

2012 – 14-2 (5-1)

2011 – 13-1 (3-1)

2010 – 10-4 (3-1)

2009 – 11-2 (2-1)

2008 – 8-3 (0-1)

2007 – 12-1 (3-0)

2006 – 8-3 (0-1)

2005 – 4-6

2004 – 11-2 (2-1)

2003 – 12-1 (2-1)

2002 – 10-2 (1-1)

2001 – 8-3 (0-1)

2000 – 9-2-1 (1-1)

Total – 175-43-1 (35-14)

Joel Allen, Bishop’s

2016 – 14-0 (4-0)

2015 – 8-5 (2-1)

2014 – 14-0 (4-0)

2013 – 7-4 (0-1)

2012 – 4-8 (1-1)

2011 – 6-6 (1-1)

2010 – 14-0 (4-0)

2009 – 8-5 (2-1)

Totals – 75-28 (18-5)

Division VI-AA State Bowl

Bill Baker, Amador

2016 – 14-1 (5-0)

2015 – 6-5 (0-1)

2014 – 6-5 (0-1)

2013 – 9-2 (0-1)

2012 – 7-4 (0-1)

2011 – 2-8

2010 – 6-5 (0-1)

2009 – 3-7

Total – 53-37 (5-5)

Jim Kunau Rancho Christian

2016 – 13-2 (5-0)

2015 – 8-4 (1-1)

2014 – 7-4 (0-1)

Totals – 28-10 (6-2)

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