High School Football

State-bound Oakdale High football team finds its spark on fourth downs

Oakdale quarterback Marc Dickson throws a pass down field during the Division 3-A NorCal Championship Game where Oakdale defeated Sutter 27-10 at Oakdale High School in Oakdale, Ca. on Dec. 10, 2016.
Oakdale quarterback Marc Dickson throws a pass down field during the Division 3-A NorCal Championship Game where Oakdale defeated Sutter 27-10 at Oakdale High School in Oakdale, Ca. on Dec. 10, 2016. jwestberg@modbee.com

Forged in the fires of the Valley Oak League, Oakdale has established itself as the Rocky Balboa of high school football teams.

The Mustangs, seemingly held together by iron struts, demand a four-quarter effort from their opponent.

Even then, it hasn’t mattered.

The knockouts have been decisively memorable. So, too, has Oakdale’s confidence when the game hangs in the balance.

The Mustangs have won six straight and have faced a deficit in each of the last four, including a 14-0 hole against Merced and a 10-6 disadvantage to Sutter in Saturday’s CIF Northern California Division III-A Bowl.

The Mustangs are one of two Stanislaus District teams to qualify for a State Bowl this weekend. Amador (15-1) travels to Murrieta Mesa High to face Rancho Christian of Temecula (13-2) on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Division VI-AA Bowl.

At the time same time, Oakdale (13-2) kicks off against Southern California Bishop’s (14-0) at La Jolla High in San Diego.

During its playoff tear, Oakdale has found “the spark,” as junior linebacker Jace Krick describes it, seizing momentum with one good play and stretching it into a great finish.

“Everything can go right or wrong in the moment. You never know,” said Krick, a second-year varsity player. “You have to make the right plays at the right time.”

Krick was the spark Saturday, setting The Corral on fire with a 78-yard interception return touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Oakdale scored 21 unanswered points, securing its second State Bowl appearance in the last five years.

The Knights step into the ring with a champion that will push every button, exhaust every possibility, maximize every down. The numbers bear that out.

In playoff wins over Vista del Lago, Christian Brothers and Sutter, the Mustangs are 9 of 12 on fourth-down conversions, many inside their own 30-yard line. Six times the drives have resulted in a touchdown.

Punter Zac Thomas called his own number on the Mustangs’ first possession against Vista del Lago. Backed up against his own end zone, Thomas abandoned the punt and converted a fourth-and-7 with a 13-yard scramble.

Head coach Trent Merzon was just as surprised as Vista del Lago. He later said Thomas has the freedom to make that call on his own.

Two plays later, wingback Bronson Harmon sprinted 62 yards for a score.

“Zac’s fake punt early was big,” Merzon said. “We would have had to punt the ball back to them on our first drive. We were going to go three-and-out, but then he made a great play and got the first down. He kept us in the game. Eight-to-7 is a hell of a lot better than 16-0”

Later, Marc Dickson and Cameron Cherry extended a touchdown drive with a 19-yard pass-and-catch. Two plays later, Dickson zigzagged through the Vista del Lago defense for a 15-yard score.

“Marc’s play spun the game,” Merzon said. “That was an electric play by Marc. He’s a better athlete than people get credit for. That was special.”

The Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final turned on a fourth-and-1 call from Oakdale’s own 30-yard line early in the second quarter. Will Semone charged forward for a 5-yard gain and closed the drive with a 1-yard score, breaking a 14-14 tie. Oakdale scored 44 consecutive points to turn the final into a laugher, 51-14.

It was more of the same against Sutter.

Semone rushed for 5 yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Oakdale 29. Two plays later, he broke a 50-yard gain down the home sideline. He eventually capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge to make it 20-10.

Later, Semone’s 7-yard gain on fourth-and-5 allowed the Mustangs to close the game in victory formation.

“They gave us a fight,” Semone said of Sutter, the Northern Section champion, “but we fought back harder and won the game. That’s all that matters.”

Battle-tested and hardened by seasonlong 6 a.m. workouts, the Mustangs don’t cower to early deficits or fourth downs from the shadow of their own goal posts.

They chase “the spark,” realizing a four-down conversion, for instance, can ignite a touchdown drive.

Or a State Bowl run.

“We put in the work – every single day, every single morning,” Krick said. “Everything prepares us, the coaches prepare us for four quarters. The game is not three quarters. It’s not two quarters. It’s a full, four-quarter game and we have to have that mentality with every team we play.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

Division III-A State Bowl

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

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: La Jolla High, 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 in the 2010 Division IV State Bowl, 40-14.

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).

Division VI-AA State Bowl

Who: Amador Buffaloes (15-1) at Rancho Christian (13-2)

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Where: Murrieta Mesa High

Enrollments: Amador – 645. Rancho Christian – 900.

MaxPreps State Ranking: Amador – 196. Rancho Christian – 234

State Experience: Both schools appearing a CIF State Bowl for the first time.

Rosters: Amador – 35. Rancho Christian – 34.

Pedigree: Competing out of the Mother Lode League, Amador captured its first Sac-Joaquin Section title in the school’s 105-year history. Under third-year coach Jim Kunau, Rancho Christian has increased its win total each year: 7, 8 and 13.

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

(MaxPreps state ranking: 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) L, 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

(MaxPreps state ranking: 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

Division VI-AA State Bowl

Amador 14-1

(MaxPreps state ranking: 196)

(Opponents’ average MaxPreps ranking: 546)

Aug. 26 at Union Mine (775) W, 24-0

Sept. 2 Rio Vista (607) W, 59-6

Sept. 9 at San Juan (1,024) W, 59-7

Sept. 23 at Linden (893) W, 61-7

Sept. 30 at Sonora (140) L, 35-14

Oct. 7 Argonaut (325) W, 24-21

Oct. 14 Bret Harte (489) W, 8-6

Oct. 21 at Calaveras (352) W, 24-14

Oct. 28 Yosemite (594) W, 35-7

Nov. 4 Summerville (650) W, 63-6

Nov. 11 Denair (690) W, 48-12

Nov. 18 Orestimba (400) W, 17-14

Nov. 26 Bradshaw Chr. (285) W, 30-7

Dec. 3 at Lincoln-SF (700) W, 45-20

Dec.10 Mendota (260) W, 21-14

Rancho Christian 13-2

(MaxPreps state ranking: 234)

(Opponents’ average MaxPreps ranking: 627)

Aug. 26 Arrowhead Christian (654) W, 35-18

Sept. 2 at Whittier Christian (380) W, 38-34

Sept. 16 Horizon Christian Academy (631) W, 31-0

Sept. 23 at Aquinas (165) L, 56-29

Sept. 30 Brethren Christian (208) L, 34-30

Oct. 7 at Santa Rosa Academy (1,015) W, 53-7

Oct. 14 Calvary Murrieta (511) W, 43-40

Oct. 21 Nuview Bridge (1,049) W, 45-0

Oct. 28 Temecula Prep (1,027) W, 48-21

Nov. 4 at Calif. Military Institute (907) W, 46-7

Nov. 11 Hamilton (1,014) W, 41-0

Nov. 18 at Godinez (538) W, 28-21

Nov. 25 at South El Monte (529) W, 42-28

Dec. 3 Santa Ana (344) W, 52-14

Dec. 9 at Franklin (438) W, 56-21

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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