High School Football

Oakdale falls to Salinas powerhouse Palma; next up, the Valley Oak League

Oakdale High football coach Trent Merzon looks at his tough nonleague schedule kind of like an investment.

It may hurt a little now, but it will pay big dividends later.

The Mustangs suffered their second loss of the season Friday night, 28-14, to Central Coast Section power Palma of Salinas.

But Merzon said he thinks playing teams like Palma will make his team better in the long run.

“When you play great teams, you’re going to lose (sometimes),” Merzon said. “But we’re getting better. And we’re better now than we were at the start of the season because of our opponents, because of losing.”

Not that the Mustangs (2-2) weren’t doing everything they could to beat the Chieftains (2-1).

Oakdale just made too many miscues.

Palma’s Anthony Villegas rushed for two touchdowns and the Mustangs never led in dropping their second straight home game at The Corral. The first came to defending state champion Liberty of Brentwood on Aug. 30, 19-14.

Palma led 14-7 at halftime, but Oakdale tied the game early in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown run by Leo Ayala. The score was set up by Zeke Saffar’s 62-yard scamper.

Palma responded on the first play of its next possession to take the lead for good, though, with Villegas weaving his way through the middle of the Oakdale defense for a 57-yard touchdown.

Down by 7, the Mustangs drove into Palma territory with about six minutes left in the game, but sophomore quarterback Jackson Holt — under heavy pressure after a blown blocking assignment — was intercepted by Palma linebacker Matthew Isais.

Isais’ long return gave the Chieftains the ball at Oakdale’s 16-yard line and a few plays later, Villegas put the game away with a 2-yard TD plunge.

Cameron Snow scored the Mustangs’ first TD, catching a 21-yard TD pass from Holt.

Despite the mistakes and missed assignments that led to the loss, Merzon has confidence his team will contend for a Valley Oak League championship.

“This program is what it is for a reason,” Merzon said. “We’re going to bounce back. Come watch us play next week.”

The Mustangs will face East Union (3-1) in their VOL opener next Friday, then have big games with VOL rivals Manteca (3-1), Sierra (4-0) and Central Catholic (angry at 0-4) on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Merzon has no plans to change his tough preseason schedules in the future.

It’s all about the investment.

“I would much rather do this and get better than play teams that aren’t very good and pretend we’re better than what we really are,” Merzon said. “We’ve been here before ... we’re going to get after it next week.”

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Jim Silva has been involved in covering local sports and news for The Modesto Bee since 1996. He graduated with a degree in journalism from San Jose State.
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