After the way the season started for Oakdale, a CIF Section Championship seemed a bit of a stretch. However, veteran Head Coach Trent Merzon, his staff, the players and community never lost sight of the goal, or the faith to achieve it. The Mustangs earned the top seed in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section D3 bracket and played like it throughout the playoffs. In the finals the Mustangs traveled to Lincoln High School in Stockton on Friday night, Dec. 2 and took on the high flying offense of the Christian Brothers Falcons, who came in as the third seed. Under the lights on a cold December night, Oakdale and its huge turnout of faithful fans celebrated with their third blue banner in five years after a 51-14 takedown of the Falcons.
“We’ve been playing great football since the fourth quarter of the Manteca game, week nine,” Merzon said in summing up the championship win, noting that the team may have hit its stride late in the season, but that carried them through.
“We frustrated them,” he added of keeping the Falcons grounded for much of the game.
After falling behind 7-0 in just over a minute of play, Oakdale tied it up on the first of five Will Semone touchdowns on the night. Along with his five touchdowns the senior transfer from Central Catholic amassed 337 rushing yards to help power the Mustangs to glory. Semone has turned in a monstrous year as he has rushed for a total of 2,334 yards on the year, including 1,162 in four postseason games.
“I really cannot stress this enough: the offensive line is the true hero week in and week out. I promise you we would not be here if it was not for them;” the modest power back said of his offensive line.
With Oakdale down 14-7 with 3:49 to play in the first, the next 39 minutes and 11 seconds belonged to the Mustangs. In that time frame, Oakdale scored 44 unanswered points in the rout. Christian Brothers, strong early with two touchdowns in the first quarter, couldn’t get back into the end zone for the rest of the game, frustrated by a quick-striking and stingy Mustang defense.
Semone tied the game with 2:25 left in the first quarter on a one yard run. Setting up his score, one play earlier Semone used the blocking of Kyle Seese to help spring him for a 46 yard run. Semone would score three more times on the night from, one, four and 10 yards out.
Oakdale’s defense had a huge night getting to college prospect quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, including four sacks on the night, two by Jacob Peterson and two by Cullen Bearden.
“We saddled up for this one all week. This is what it all came down to, one of us was going home with a championship and we all wanted it and we worked hard all week, and tonight it all came together;” said linebacker Peterson.
Another big force in the Oakdale defense was Bearden, who not only applied pressure to Vander Waal, but also intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 40 yards for the score to put the game away.
“He (Vander Waal) is a big physical Division one quarterback who we knew we had to try and contain,” Bearden explained. “We gave up some big plays early, but like we have throughout the tournament we bounced back and shut it down.”
Vander Waal started the game seven-for-seven but sputtered the rest of the way going two-of-nine with an interception.
The Mustangs went up 24-14 at the half as kicker Colin Harrity hit a 28-yard field goal with 1:34 left in the half.
Oakdale got the kickoff to start the second half and went on an opening drive that took all the wind out of the Christian Brothers Sails. That drive ate up 7:29 of the third quarter, capped off by Semone’s four yard touchdown run.
“We love getting the ball first in the second half,” Merzon pointed out, adding it was key to eat up a huge chunk of the third quarter and get on the scoreboard to boot.
“Our kids just capitalized real well,” Merzon said.
The coach said though the Mustangs have been slow starters early in games this season, they get it into gear and finish well.
“Our kids just play,” the coach said, smiling. “We play well.”
Cameron Cherry also got in the mix for Oakdale’s running game as the elusive back racked up 137 yards on 18 carries and found the end zone in the third quarter on a 27-yard run with 1:27 left in the third.
“We just go by our motto “Be an OKG” (Oakdale Kind of Guy) and play bang for four quarters until the final play. Wearing this championship hat is something a lot of us grew up wanting to be a part of,” Cherry said, sporting his new CIF championship cap following the banner presentation. “I cannot explain the feeling right now.”
Leader Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this report.