Even after three years on the varsity, Oakdale High School quarterback Adam Olsen is susceptible to a midseason malaise.
Nothing like games against Manteca and Central Catholic – programs wrapped in blue Sac-Joaquin Section banners – to bring things back into focus.
Olsen has helped the Mustangs to two section titles and a CIF Division II State Bowl appearance, but the senior admits his focus waned during a series of blowout victories to start Valley Oak League play this season.
Oakdale dispatched Sierra, Kimball, Lathrop, East Union and Weston Ranch by 24 or more points to start league.
Oakdale coach Trent Merzon pulled many of his starters in those games, realizing the Mustangs’ schedule was backloaded, that Manteca and Central Catholic – two heavy-handed bullies – waited at the finish line.
“I got caught up in some of the stuff I shouldn’t have. I think I’ve taken time to clear my head and clear my thoughts and put all my effort into these next two weeks,” Olsen said before last week’s rout over Manteca, then ranked No. 6 in The Bee’s large-school poll. “When you play teams like this, you wake up. You just want to be ready to go and do your job.”
Few have been as good at closing a regular season as the Mustangs, who have won 10 of the last 13 Valley Oak League championships and four section titles.
Since 2012, Oakdale is 10-1 in the final three weeks of the regular season, including convincing victories over Weston Ranch (58-20) and Manteca (45-14) this fall.
In its toughest test since a 24-13 win over Turlock in Week 1, at least on paper, Oakdale imposed its will on the Buffaloes. Oakdale forced four turnovers, and Brad Aquino and Austin Burke each rushed for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns, setting up a winner-take-all showdown between undefeated teams Friday: No. 2 Oakdale (9-0, 5-0) at No. 1 Central Catholic (9-0, 5-0).
Central Catholic is ranked No. 2 in Cal-Hi Sports’ Division III state poll, and Oakdale is expected to climb to No. 3 with its victory over Manteca.
In their last meeting, Oakdale thundered past the Raiders to clinch a share of the 2014 VOL championship with Sierra.
The victory set in motion a remarkable postseason run.
The Mustangs pounded Pacheco, Vista del Lago and Rio Vista with a three-headed ground attack – 1,000-yard running backs Frankie Trent, Brock Whiting and Darus Nelson – and punctuated their season with come-from-behind win over Inderkum in the Division III final.
“As the season goes on, we get closer as a family,” senior linebacker Robby Bagley said. “We realize we’re playing tougher opponents, so we take that perspective and use it to become closer as a family and play as one unit.”
The body count is convincing.
In 2012, en route to a Division III section title and Division II CIF State Bowl appearance, Oakdale beat Weston Ranch, Manteca and Sonora by a combined 141-28.
The Mustangs responded to a 35-14 loss to Kimball in 2013 with victories over Lathrop and Sonora and still managed a score differential of 98-77 during that three-week stretch.
Last fall, Oakdale topped Kimball, Lathrop and Central Catholic 154-30.
“We get after it a little bit more. We realize these are really, really important games,” Olsen said. “You don’t want to lose them. You want to win. So there’s a better focus and an attitude of, ‘We have to do this.’ ”
Oakdale and Central Catholic are playing for more than the VOL championship. The winner likely will be the No. 1 seed and have the home-field advantage throughout the Division III playoffs, a tournament lined with heavyweights.
Olsen and Merzon said there is a certain mystique about The Corral – from the deafening noise of its passionate fan base to the wind that blows through the stadium – that propels the Mustangs. Oakdale has won its last 15 home games and is 69-6 at The Corral since 2004.
“The No. 1 seed and home playoff games – that would be huge for us,” Olsen said.
This week’s prep football games
Modesto Metro Conference
Downey at Gregori, 7 p.m.
Modesto at Davis (MJC), 7 p.m.
Johansen at Beyer (Downey), 7:30 p.m.
Central California Conference
Buhach Colony at Atwater, 7 p.m.
Merced at Golden Valley, 7 p.m.
Pitman at Turlock, 7:15 p.m.
Valley Oak League
Oakdale at Central Catholic, 7 p.m.
Weston Ranch at Sierra, 7 p.m.
East Union at Manteca, 7 p.m.
Kimball at Lathrop, 7:15 p.m.
Western Athletic Conference
Central Valley at Ceres, 7 p.m.
Patterson at El Capitan, 7 p.m.
Los Banos at Pacheco, 7 p.m.
Modesto Christian at Escalon, 7:30 p.m.
Mountain House at Hilmar, 7:30 p.m.
Ripon at Hughson, 7:30 p.m.
Mother Lode League
Argonaut at Bret Harte, 7:30 p.m.
Calaveras at Amador, 7:30 p.m.
Summerville at Linden, 7:30 p.m.
Denair at Waterford, 7:30 p.m.
Mariposa at Le Grand, 7:30 p.m.
Orestimba at Gustine, 7:30 p.m.
Ripon Christian at Delhi, 7:30 p.m.
Central California Athletic Alliance
Millennium at Big Valley Christian, 7 p.m.
Brookside Christian at Stone Ridge Christian, 7 p.m.
Turlock Christian at Valley Christian, 7 p.m.