High School Football

How a 4th-down conversion helped Oakdale clinch a share of VOL title with win over CC

Oakdale High football coach Trent Merzon told his special teams unit to stay on the sideline during a timeout.

The Mustangs were going for the win.

Holding a three-point lead over rival Central Catholic, Merzon rolled the dice and went for it on 4th-and-3 from the Mustangs’ own 38-yard line with 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining in Friday’s Valley Oak League contest.

“I didn’t want to give the ball back,” Merzon said. “They (Central Catholic) are explosive and I had confidence in Jackson (Holt).”

The sophomore quarterback faked the hand-off and rolled to his right, then connected for five yards to junior Donovan Walker for a first down.

Holt would take three kneel plays to run out the clock as the Mustangs beat the Raiders 42-39 to clinch a share of the VOL title with Central Catholic and Manteca.

“I was able to pull through for my team and it felt great,” Holt said.

The play almost didn’t happen as Merzon was about to call another timeout because he didn’t like what he saw from the Central Catholic defense. But he had confidence in his sophomore quarterback.

“Jackson made big plays and he is special,” Merzon said.

Fans wanted pictures with Holt after the game as the 6-foot-3 quarterback walked around with the game ball.

“You are going to remember this game for a long time,” Merzon told his team afterward. “And it’s going to be a positive memory.”

By virtue of head-to-head scoring, Manteca will represent the league as champion when the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs are released on Sunday. Central Catholic (5-1, 5-5) will be in Division II, Manteca (5-1, 8-2) in Division III, and Oakdale (5-1, 7-3) in Division IV.

In a battle of two of the top running backs in the area, Central Catholic senior Minaya Olivo (20 carries for 135 yards, 2 TDs, 7 receptions for 50 yards, 1 TD) and Oakdale junior Zeke Saffar (14 carries for 199 yards, 2 TDs) both had big games.

Olivo scored the game’s first touchdown with 10:02 remaining in the first quarter and Saffar had touchdown runs of 55 and 80 yards.

“Our offensive line was amazing,” Saffar said.

Central Catholic led 10-7 after the first and Oakdale led 21-18 at halftime. The third quarter was back-and-forth as Central Catholic took a 25-21 lead on a 65-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dalton Durossette to senior wide receiver Frank Clark. But the Mustangs scored 14 unanswered points on touchdown runs by Saffar and senior Isaac Valero.

With Oakdale leading 42-32 with a little over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Durossette connected with sophomore running back Aiden Taylor for a six-yard touchdown pass to trim the Mustangs’ lead to three with 5:21 left.

Behind Saffar, Valero, and senior Leo Ayala, the Mustangs kept control of the ball for the rest of the game.

“We lost because we made a few mistakes (one interception and two fumbles lost),” Raiders coach Roger Canepa told the team afterward. “Against a good football team, you have to play mistake-free.”

The two rivals had split the last four meetings before Oakdale’s win.

“Nothing feels better than beating Central Catholic at their place,” Merzon said.

Julian A. Lopez has been covering local sports for The Modesto Bee since August 2018. He graduated from Arizona State in 2016 with a BA in Journalism.