A much different Oakdale football team took the field Friday night than the week before. In the team’s first round game football playoff game against El Dorado on Nov. 13, the Mustangs struggled on defense, giving up 33 points, and looked out of sync on a few of their offensive possessions. Seven days later, Oakdale returned to their dominant form on both sides of the ball. Oakdale hung 42 first half points on the scoreboard in their 42-14 quarterfinal victory over visiting Benicia on Nov. 20.
“We had a great week of practice. Our boys played great, on all sides of the ball, I think that was the difference between last week and this week,” head coach Trent Merzon said of the resurgence.
The second seeded Mustangs made an early statement when junior Cullen Bearden recovered a fumble on 10th seeded Benicia’s opening drive following a stripped ball at their own nine-yard line. Turning the turnover into points, Oakdale senior quarterback Adam Olsen scored the game’s opening touchdown on a four-yard rush with 10:42 remaining in the first quarter. One minute thirty-eight seconds later, the Mustangs expanded their lead to 14-0 on a Brad Aquino 24-yard rush. Down 14-0 early in the first quarter, the visiting Benicia Panthers were forced to attempt a fourth and 13 from midfield. Panthers receiver Jason Shelly dropped a pass that hit him in the hands for the turnover on downs. However, the Mustangs drive was halted when running back Austin Burke coughed up the ball on the first play of the drive and it was recovered by Benicia. The Mustang defense, although on short rest, forced the Panthers to punt after Ben Solario deflected a pass on third down. With 3:47 left in the first quarter, Aquino followed a key block by his wide receiver teammate, Ty Fuentes, whose block was heard all over The Corral sending the crowd into a frenzy. Aquino ran up the field 46 yards before finally being pushed out of bounds at the Benicia 47-yard line.
“I didn’t want to let my team down. I wanted to make the best of my opportunity. I was told to run off the receiver because the ball was going the opposite direction so I saw the defender coming my way, and it all just fell into place,” Fuentes said of his key block.
Fuentes opened the season as a corner but was later moved to wide receiver.
“I like it. The transition from defense to offense has gone well,” Fuentes said of his midseason change.
On third and one, Burke redeemed himself from his earlier fumble when he picked up 19 yards, setting up first and goal for the Mustangs at the two-yard line. Burke wrapped up the night with 135 yards rushing on 13 carries. The drive was capped off when Aquino scored his second touchdown of the quarter to bring the lead to 21-0 with 1:47 left.
Olsen, who completed his only pass attempt of the game to Logan Hall for an eight-yard gain, took control of the game with his legs more so than his arm. The mobile senior was alert to his surroundings and felt the Panther blitz coming from the right side, and ran up the middle for a 28 yard touchdown run with 9:04 left in the half to bring the Mustang lead to 28-0. Olsen rushed the ball twice for a total of 32 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Solario and the defense continued to shine in the first half, as Solario broke up a deep pass attempt on third and long to force another Panther punt with 7:45 left in the half.
“We knew we could play better than we did last week, that’s what we needed to prove to everyone tonight. Number nine (Shelly) is a fast dude and I was on him most of the night, so I knew if he got loose then he could take it to the house. I was just fortunate enough to get a few fingers on the ball,” Solario said of guarding the speedy Panther wide out.
On the offensive side the ball, Aquino’s big first half continued when he scored two more touchdowns in the final 6:42 of the half to give Oakdale a 42-0 lead. Kicker Lane Trapp made good on every extra point attempt in the contest.
Aquino finished with a total of 150 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the night. Oakdale’s offensive line allowed no sacks, and opened up big holes for the Mustangs rushing attack, which accumulated a total of 452 yards. On top of Aquino and Burke’s big night, Bobby DePuy also cranked out 63 rushing yards on five carries in the first half of the game before being sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
“We play as a team, as a unit. This is a brotherhood and we play for each other and that’s what is important to us. I think that’s what makes our line successful,” said center Alex Pena on the team’s big night.
Oakdale’s (11-1) quest to be section champions continues this Friday night when the Mustangs welcome the three seeded Inderkum Tigers. Last year the Tigers and Mustangs squared off in the CIF Section championship game, where the Tigers built up a 20-0 halftime lead, only to have the Mustangs rally back to a dramatic 27-23 victory.
“It’s going to take a great effort from this team, these coaches, and everyone in the community to show up and frustrate them and make a lot of noise in those stands,” Merzon said. “They are a great football team. They are a big and athletic team. It’s going to take an effort from everyone in the zip code to come out and make a ton of noise and make it hard on them.
“Our kids are going to do what they do and that’s empty the tank. We as coaches are going to coach our butts off, and the kids are going to play their butts off. It’s going to take that kind of effort to beat this team because they are that good.”
Merzon said he knows the Mustangs will be ready to go and they are looking forward to the battle.
“It’s Thanksgiving football at The Corral and an undefeated team comes in here,” Merzon said of hosting the 12-0 Tigers in the semifinals. “Man, what an opportunity for everybody involved.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 27.