Much was made of the fact the annual Valley Oak League matchup between Oakdale and Manteca was being played in the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium.
The Buffaloes gave up home-field advantage for a the chance to be part of the venue’s Friday Night Lights, a two-day high school showcase that featured eight Northern California teams.
In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d played in Santa Clara or Manteca or Oakdale … or even in the Crab Nebula.
The Mustangs (6-0, 3-0 VOL) were simply better, and proved it in a convincing 42-21 victory over their league rivals Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader before an announced crowd of 8,906.
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“The expections for our program are so high,” said Oakdale coach Trent Merzon. “What other people think about us is irrelevant. If we’re a great team, then we need to go out and prove it, and not rely on what’s been done in the past.
“I thought we were pretty good today.”
There’s no rest for the weary, however, as Oakdale travels to Manteca on Friday to tangle with undefeated Sierra (6-0, 3-0), The Bee’s top-ranked large-school team. Oakdale, which will enter that game on short rest, is No. 2 in the large-school rankings.
“There’s less recovery time for the players and less preparation time for the coaches,” Merzon said. “Plus there’s the emotional drain … But I think it’ll be a little easier for us to bounce back having won this game.”
The Mustangs broke a 21-21 halftime tie and dominated with 21 unanswered second-half points.
At least, that’s what it says in the box score. It wasn’t quite that easy.
The Mustangs took possession on the 20 to open the third quarter and marched 80 yards on 12 plays, with Frankie Trent capping the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Trent, who scored all six touchdowns for the Mustangs, rushed for 138 yards on 19 carries – in the second half alone. The fullback finished with 223 rushing yards. Every one of those 33 carries went between the tackles.
“We wanted to go right at ’em,” said Trent, a 5-8, 210-pound senior. “We wanted to grind ’em and run a lot of plays, whether it was me or Brock (Whiting) or Darus (Nelson).”
After falling behind 28-21, the Buffaloes (4-2, 1-2) began their first drive of the third quarter at their 20, but punted before getting near midfield. The Mustangs then reeled off 14 plays that took them inside the red zone and took more than six minutes. But on second-and-8 from the 12, Merzon called for a pass, and quarterback Adam Olsen was intercepted in end the end zone by junior Ronaldo Tijero.
“We’re going to have to be able to throw in big situations if we want to win big games,” Merzon said. “I thought throwing on second-and-long was less risky than having to throw on third-and-long.”
Tijero’s pick appeared to flip the momentum but the Buffs’ offense couldn’t do a thing and went three-and-out – Landen Ichord sacked Dakarai Charles on third down – and Oakdale took over with great field position at Manteca’s 43.
After an 18-yard burst from Trent and a 15-yarder from Whiting, Trent scored from the 10 to make it 34-21 with 6:33 left.
“When you have guys playing two ways, and you’re getting banged on for 10 or 12 plays at a time by their offense, it’s tough on our defensive players,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “Because then they have to flip over and go play offense. It’s tough to get it going.”
On the ensuing possession, the Buffaloes turned the ball over on downs at their 15, and the Mustangs wrapped things up with one play – a trap to Trent to make it 40-21. Whiting made good on a two-point conversion for the final margin.
“I told the kids that when you get beat by a better team, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Reis, who guided the Buffaloes to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship last year and a trip to the CIF Northern California bowl game. “We got beat by a better team today.”
Manteca turned the ball over on its first possession – one of three times it put the ball on the ground – to give Oakdale possession on its 33. Twelve plays and nearly six minutes later, Trent’s 2-yard touchdown run gave the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.
Manteca fumbled on the ensuing possession, but this time it worked out. Lightning quick wide receiver Luis Reyes scooped up Charles’ miscue at the 38 and dashed 62 yards for the tying touchdown with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
Another long, methodical Oakdale drive was capped on a 7-yard run by Trent, but the Buffs tied the score when Charles and Reyes hooked up in a more conventional manner. Charles dropped back and was flushed to his right; the Mustangs him pinned against the home sideline, and nearly out of bounds, before he reversed field and found Reyes at midfield. From there, the 5-10, 171-pound senior outraced the Mustangs’ defense to tie the score 14-14.
Oakdale went 80 yards on 10 plays on its next possession – Trent scored from the 5 – and appeared to have forced a three-and-out on Manteca’s next series. However, an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction gave the Buffs a second chance and a first down at Oakdale’s 28. Moments later, the Buffs tied the score for a third time when senior Greg Jonescaught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds left in the first half.
“We grew up today,” Merzon said. “Our offense played well all day, but we made a lot of mistakes on defense early and had some chances to get down on each other a little bit.
“But we responded with a big second half.”