Unlike the Nov. 6 barnburner that totaled 79 points between them, Friday night’s CIF Section Championship Game between Oakdale and Central Catholic proved to be an offensive struggle. At night’s end, it was Central Catholic hoisting the much sought after blue banner, following a 21-7 victory at Lincoln High School of Stockton in the DIII title contest.
The Mustangs defense gave the Raiders fits early and often throughout the cold evening. Central Catholic’s opening possession of the first half included two successful third down conversions. However, facing a third-and-five from the Oakdale 41, the Raiders attempt was stopped by Cullen Bearden who tripped up Central Catholic’s quarterback Hunter Petlansky for a one yard loss. The Raiders decided to go for it on fourth-and-six but Petlansky’s pass fell incomplete giving Oakdale their first possession of the game. Oakdale’s senior quarterback Adam Olsen’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Austin Escobar who returned it to the Raider 49 with 5:06 left in the first quarter. Similar to their first drive, the Raiders were efficient on third down, converting two on the drive. On a third-and-three from the Oakdale 22, future Fresno State running back Justin Rice picked up four yards to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, the Raiders faced third-and-five from the Oakdale 13, Rice took the pitch from Petlansky and ran down the left side to the two yard line. The following play Rice powered his way past the Mustangs defensive line and into the end zone for the first points of the evening with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs faced third-and-three from their own 35 to start the second quarter. Olsen’s hard count drew the anxious Raiders defense offside to keep the drive alive. Later in the drive, facing fourth-and-seven from the Central Catholic eight yard line, Oakdale brought in the field goal unit to attempt a 22 yard field off the foot of Lane Trapp, but a late flag was thrown and Central Catholic was called for a personal foul to bring it half the distance to the goal. With 8:11 left to play in the half, Oakdale waved off the field goal unit, and gambled on fourth down, where Olsen was sacked at the ten-yard line for the turnover. The Mustangs defense once again stood tall and forced the Raiders to punt after going three and out. A short punt sailed out of bounds at the Central Catholic 41 giving Oakdale’s offense a short field to work with and 6:34 left in the half. On fourth-and-two from the Raider 33, senior fullback Brad Aquino burst through the Raider defense and picked up six for the first down. Facing third-and-seven from the Raider 24, Olsen rifled it to his sure handed tight end Greg Hickman who came down with the ball and slipped out of the defenders arms and ran for the score to tie the game with 3:39 left in the half.
Oakdale’s defense once again answered the challenge, as the Raiders faced third-and-three from their own 27 yard line. Petlansky handed the ball off to Rice, but Rice was met by a herd of Mustangs at the line of scrimmage forcing another punt. Like the previous punt, this one also sailed out of bounds at the Raider 46, netting only 19 yards. On third and long, Oakdale attempted a reverse where Austin Burke ran to his left and gave the ball to Bobby DePuy who stopped and threw the ball down field but the pass attempt fell short forcing Oakdale to punt with 52 seconds left in the half. With 8.6 seconds left in the half, Central Catholic found themselves in the red zone. On second-and-inches Petlansky’s pass attempt up the middle was intercepted by Zac Thomas at the two yard line to end the half.
The Mustangs, who won the coin toss in the first half, deferred to the second and started the second half with the ball. Oakdale’s opening second half drive went 61 yards, in 12 plays and ate up 5:47 of the clock. The drive included three successful third down conversions including an Olsen 11 yard rush on third and eight. Facing fourth-and-10 Trapp and the field goal unit came out to attempt a 37 yard field goal. The normally automatic Trapp’s attempt sailed wide left to end the lengthy drive.
Petlansky and the Raider offense took over and marched down the field behind three straight pass completions to advance the ball to the Oakdale 28. Facing fourth-and-eight from the Mustang 26, Petlansky connected to his younger brother, Cole for a 23 yard gain. The next play, the elder Petlansky called his own number and kept the ball on a quarterback sneak to move the pile across the goal line for the score to take the lead, 14-7, with 26.4 seconds left in the third.
Down by seven with 12 minutes to play, the Mustangs got to work on the offensive side of the ball. On third-and-one from their own 33 Aquino carried the ball and overpowered the Raider defense to pick up five yards to the 38. Later in the drive, Oakdale was faced with a third-and-eight; Olsen rushed for a nine yard pickup to a first down and brought it to midfield. With 8:27 left to play Oakdale faced a fourth-and-three from the Central Catholic 43. Olsen handed the ball off to DePuy but was brought down for a loss of one, and the Raiders corralled the Mustangs drive.
A pitch to Rice on third-and-five from their own 49, Rice was hit hard by Ben Solario but not in time as Rice picked up six to continue the drive with under seven minutes to play. Minutes later, Louis Marsella took Bland down with a hard hit spearing him backward for a loss of a yard, bringing up third-and-five from the Oakdale 27 with five minutes to play. Marsella and Thomas stopped Rice in his tracks forcing fourth-and-three from the Mustang 23 yard line with 4:17 left, Central Catholic called their third and final timeout of the game. The Mustangs defense stopped the Raiders on fourth down, giving them the ball back at their own 21 yard line and three timeouts to work with.
Aquino, who finished with 81 yards on 22 carries, carried the ball on second-and-ten and picked up four yards before being hit hard by Escobar to bring up third-and-six. On fourth-and-six from the their own 25, and two time outs remaining, Mustangs head coach Trent Merzon kept his offense on the field and decided to go for the first down. Merzon’s gamble nearly paid off, as Olsen rushed the ball up the middle for nearly the full six yards. The chain gang measured the distance of the run, but came up short by less than a yard, and Central Catholic took over on downs with 3:13 left to play.
“At that moment if we were to punt the ball away, best case scenario, we stop them on the other end. We get the ball back with maybe one minute and change to play. They would have given the ball to Justin (Rice) and he leans forward three times, he may have picked up the first down and we would have missed our chance, and not see the ball again,” Merzon commented on his decision to go for it on fourth down deep in their own territory.
Back on defense, Robby Bagley tripped up a scrambling Petlansky bringing him down at the 22 yard line. However, on the following play, Rice broke loose on a 22 yard rush to score the final points of the evening with 2:16 left to play. Rice, who rushed for 288 yards and three touchdowns on Nov. 6, finished the night with 28 carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
“We know they are a good team. We had to come out and give it our all, and we did, but it didn’t click the way we wanted it too. I am proud of my boys; they came to play and we never gave up. That’s football,” Marsella said following the loss.
Although the season came to a close without a section championship, the Mustangs overcame many obstacles including injuries throughout the season. The loss of senior running back Darus Nelson early in the season led to Aquino having a big year, along with Burke, DePuy and Vincent Albertoni also making the most of their carries during the season.
“It’s been an honor playing alongside these guys. We have such high expectations for ourselves and we don’t want to let each other down or the community that comes out and supports us. I could not ask for more from them,” Bagley said of his teammates.