Their first lead of the game didn’t come until the first play of the fourth quarter.
After falling behind visiting Merced, the host Oakdale Mustangs poured it on and continued the postseason party, scoring 28 unanswered points to knock off the visiting Merced Bears 35-21 in Friday night action at The Corral. The day after Thanksgiving, the Mustangs were thankful for the chance to return to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section football finals.
“They are very fast. I mean that is the fastest team we have played so far and they were the toughest team we have played so far. I’m just glad we won,” said Mustang Zach Campbell.
Things looked dim early in the first quarter as fifth seeded Merced opened with two quick touchdowns to go up 14-0. However, the resilient top seeded Mustangs regrouped and began chipping away. Following his school record 317 rushing yards from a week ago, senior Will Semone turned in another memorable playoff performance. The senior rushed for 273 yards and scored four touchdowns to help Oakdale rally.
“Again it all goes back to my offensive line. They work hard every practice and stand tall on game day,” Semone said of his teammates.
Semone scored his first touchdown of the evening on a nine-yard rush with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter. One minute later, Merced completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-7 lead.
Both defenses did battle in the second quarter. With 9:36 remaining in the half, Oakdale gambled on a fourth-and-nine from the Merced 31 yard line. Marc Dickson’s pass attempt to receiver Joseph Lutz sailed over the receiver’s hands and fell incomplete for a turnover on downs. Oakdale’s defense answered the challenge as Levi Ichord recorded a sack on third down to force Merced to punt. On the next Merced possession, the Bears looked to add on to their lead with a trip to the red zone. However, Oakdale’s CJ Toledo climbed the ladder and outjumped Merced’s Paul Scoggins for the interception with 3:36 remaining.
“That was a big play. If Merced scores on that drive, it would have made it real difficult for us to overcome. But man, that was a huge play,” Mustangs coach Trent Merzon said. “Our defense did not break tonight and helped carry us.”
Semone cashed in on the turnover, as he scored from two yards out with 1:04 left in the half to make it 21-14.
The Mustangs defense continued to give the Bears offense fits in the third quarter, as Bronson Harmon found himself in the right place at the right time with an interception of his own and returned it to the Merced nine yard line. On the first play from scrimmage following the turnover, Semone found the end zone for the third time to tie the game at 21 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, Matt Kjeldgaard slammed the Merced quarterback to the turf for a sack to bring up fourth and long deep in their own territory. The speedy receiver Scoggins doubles as the team’s punter for Merced and rushed for 52 yards on a fake punt to get the visitor side stands rocking with excitement. The excitement was short lived as the team was faced with a fourth-and-four from the Oakdale 30. Merced decided to go for it and like he did in the first half, Toledo once again showed his capabilities in the secondary and tipped the ball away from the receiver for the turnover.
Tied at 21 entering the fourth quarter, Oakdale took its first lead of the game on a Semone two yard rush three seconds into the quarter. Harmon took over on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter as he recovered a fumble at the Merced 42 yard line with 10:26 left in the game. The Mustangs put things out of reach on a Harmon to Lutz 31-yard flea flicker touchdown pass with 7:09 remaining in the game to go up 35-21.
“Tough game, it was fast paced but we took care of business. We go for that blue banner next week and we will be ready for whatever happens,” Harmon said.
For the third time in four years, the Oakdale Mustangs return to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Finals. This Friday night the top seeded Mustangs will take on the number three seeded Christian Brothers at Lincoln High School in Stockton for the Division III crown. Led by a powerful running game that features Will Semone, Cameron Cherry and Bronson Harmon, Oakdale looks to run wild on the Christian Brothers defense.
“We will not deviate from what we do or who we are. That may be ho-hum football for the typical fan, but it is who we are,” Mustangs head coach Trent Merzon said.
During the regular season Oakdale dropped its first game of the season to Sonora, but quickly regrouped and won seven straight games, and defeated Central Catholic 34-21 in the regular season finale.
Oakdale opened the postseason with a 49-0 shutout win over McNair on Nov. 10. They followed that up with a 63-35 knockout blow to eighth seeded Vista del Lago the following week. This past Friday night, Oakdale rallied from as many as 14 down and scored 28 unanswered points to defeat the fifth seed Merced Bears.
The third seed Christian Brothers were crowned Capital Athletic League Champions this year and have won 11 straight games. In the playoffs Christian Brothers defeated 14th seeded Cordova 30-20; 11th seeded Burbank 21-14 and shut out the number two seed American Canyon 29-0.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.