A larger than usual crowd flocked to The Corral this past Friday night. Not only did the fans witness a varsity Mustangs 39-14 home win over visiting Weston Ranch, but they were also treated to Military Appreciation Night, also known as the Honor Bowl. And, topping it off, there was a special 20-year reunion for the 1996 CIF Section Championship Mustangs football team.
Twenty years ago Oakdale went 9-1 on the season, with their one loss coming at the hands of then-VOL champions the Tracy Bulldogs. Under head coach Marc Malone, the Mustangs made a run in the CIF Division II playoffs. In the first round Oakdale traveled to Del Oro and won 30-19. Their second round victory came when they knocked off the number three team in California, Foothill, 42-14. Oakdale would then travel to play Oak Ridge at University of Pacific in the Section Championship game. The overtime thriller was won by Oakdale 28-21.
Friday night this team was honored by fans, friends, alumni and more as the team, along with their cheerleaders, reunited and were celebrated at halftime. The ceremony began with a moment of silence for the four members of the team who have since passed away. Assistant Coach Mike Hogwood, Ray Jeremy, Troy Robinson and Gamaliel Paulo were all recognized and remembered. Following the heartfelt tribute, Oakdale’s cheerleaders and cheer coaches were honored and welcomed with a standing ovation by the crowd. Shortly after, the players and coaching staff from that memorable team were honored.
“Every group is special to come out of Oakdale. The 1996 team had some memorable plays, players and games. We had a really difficult playoff schedule and they answered the challenge. I think all of our teams (throughout the years) were close, but I have to say 1996 was closer, on and off the field,” said then-head coach and now School District Superintendent Marc Malone. “They had a strong bond and very competitive. They had a real brotherhood. Look around here tonight, these guys traveled from around the country just to be here tonight to reunite with their brothers. Mustang Born. Mustang Bred. Gonna be a Mustang until the day I’m dead.”
Oakdale’s current head coach Trent Merzon, who was an assistant for the 1996 team, also commented on the team’s impact on the community.
“It’s special to get a win in front of those guys. I have told the team all week, which we were not just playing for us this week, but for them. Amazing how fast 20 years goes by. Coach Malone really turned around this program.”
As part of the 16th annual Honor Bowl, Oakdale honored and recognized former and current members of the U.S. Armed Forces during halftime of the game. The crowd was asked to rise if they were or are a current member of the military while the Armed Forces Medley was performed.
“This is a community that really rallies behind our troops, past or present. All those people who sacrifice for us to coach or play this game and give us our freedom to do so, we can’t thank them enough,” Merzon said. “Their families sacrifice so much too. We love our kids, and I can’t imagine the sacrifices of the military families and all that they go through on a daily basis. So tonight was not just about the troops, but a salute to their families as well