“It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you get hit, and keep moving forward.” That inspirational quote is featured in the upcoming ‘Creed’ movie. Those words seemed especially fitting following Friday night’s heavyweight bout between Oakdale and Central Catholic on the gridiron. The two teams entered David Patton Memorial Field undefeated in the 2015 regular season finale. Up for grabs, bragging rights for the next calendar year, a high ranking in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs and the 2015 Valley Oak League (VOL) title. After four hard-fought quarters, all these things were awarded to Central Catholic with their 42-37 victory.
The last time Oakdale lost a VOL showdown like this was over a year ago; it was Oct. 17, 2014 on the road at Sierra. The first quarter on Friday night was like a scene out of a horror movie as Mustangs senior linebacker Louis Marsella went down on the first play from scrimmage with an undisclosed injury and did not return to the game. From there, Central Catholic’s 6-3 senior Justin Rice quieted the Mustang faithful early and often. The Fresno State bound Rice torched Oakdale’s defense for nearly 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the night. With two quick scores by Rice, the Raiders took a 14-0 lead with 8:02 left in the first quarter. The Rice family continued to shine as younger brother Jared Rice found the end zone on a one yard rush to build up a 21-0 lead with 11:07 left to play in the first half. With the Raiders driving and looking to add onto their large lead, Oakdale’s defense had other plans, as four Mustang linemen wrapped up Central Catholic quarterback Hunter Petlansky for the sack, forcing the Raiders to punt for the first time on the night with 7:11 left in the half.
It took a season-long 19 minutes for the Mustangs scoring drought to end when quarterback Adam Olsen sprinted past the Raiders defense and scored on a 17-yard keeper to get the 2,000 plus Mustang fans who made the trip on their collective feet as the scoreboard showed 21-7 with five minutes to play in the half. Down 28-7 with less than a minute to play in the opening half, Oakdale’s Austin Burke got the Mustangs into decent field position on his 36-yard kickoff return. A pass interference call on Central Catholic set up a first and 10 for Oakdale at midfield. As the clock wound down on the half, Oakdale’s clutch field goal kicker, Lane Trapp, knocked through a 32-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to 28-10.
Oakdale, which won the coin toss in the first half and elected to defer, started the second half with the ball and marched down the field in the blink of an eye. Senior fullback Brad Aquino scored two unanswered touchdowns to close the deficit to 28-23 with 4:34 left to play in the third quarter. Setting up the Mustangs second third quarter score was a gutsy call on fourth-and-two at their own 34-yard line. Olsen lined up for a punt, but when the ball was snapped Olsen instead tossed it to Robby Bagley for the first down.
The Raiders regrouped and Justin Rice crossed the goal line for the third and final time of the night on a 20-yard burst, advancing the Raider lead to 35-23 with 2:49 left in the third quarter. Central Catholic added on to their lead after Oakdale was called offside on a third-and-six attempt had failed, allowing Central Catholic to keep their drive going. Three plays later Central scored on a one yard rush by Kekupaa Freehauf with 9:22 remaining in regulation. The resilient Mustangs did not roll over, rather, they saddled up and two minutes later scored on an Olsen throw into the end zone that found fellow senior Logan Hall, who hauled in the touchdown on a 30-yard reception. Following a successful two point conversion on an Olsen rush, the scoreboard showed Central Catholic up 42-31 with 7:22 remaining. For the most part Central Catholic played a clean game until Rice fumbled the ball at the Oakdale 33 and it was recovered by the Mustangs. With 3:33 remaining in the slugfest, Olsen threw a 25 yard bomb into the end zone and into the hands of a diving Gregory Hickman to keep the Oakdale hopes alive. Down 42-37, Oakdale lined up for an onside kick. With the hands team out there, Oakdale came away with the ball setting up a Mustang opportunity to complete what once seemed to be an insurmountable lead and come back all the way. Oakdale drove down the field but would come up empty on three consecutive incomplete passes, including a fourth-and-14 attempt that was intended for Bobby DePuy but was contested with 1:56 remaining. Oakdale’s defense took the field and forced a third-and-six with just over one minute to play. Oakdale’s Ben Solario tackled Petlansky on the home side sideline. With the chain gang on Oakdale’s sideline, confusion broke out when the clip that is used to mark the original line of scrimmage was removed and was noticed by the Oakdale coaching staff. When questioned by the Mustangs coaching staff about the missing clip, the official replied “I told him to take it off,” causing Coach Trent Merzon and the entire Mustangs sideline to come unglued. As the official and chain gang made their way across the field for a measurement, the large crowd of fans on both sides who were vocal throughout the night paused with anticipation. When the official signaled a first down for the Raiders, the Mustang faithful erupted with anger and disappointment. Still, coach Merzon said the final first down that allowed the Raiders to seal the win wasn’t the ultimate difference in the contest.
“We had more influence on that outcome than the officials,” Merzon said. “We (OHS football) never point the finger at anyone other than ourselves. It hurts, but this is a resilient team, who is awaiting the next chapter, which is playoffs.”
Oakdale, coming in as the number two team out of the Valley Oak League and the number two seed in the DIII playoffs, will host a first round game on Friday night, Nov. 13 against 15 seed El Dorado. Kickoff for the Section playoff game is 7 p.m. at The Corral.