Keeping the game close early, Oakdale’s varsity football Mustangs finally ran out of steam and couldn’t hold off an undefeated Clayton Valley Charter School squad, falling 28-7 in the CIF NorCal Regional Division II championship game on Saturday.
It was a long trip to Concord for the team, with chilly temperatures but no rain greeting the squad and their fans, jam packed in to the visitor’s stands along one side of the field and an additional set of bleachers brought in to the end zone.
Oakdale was selected to play in the NorCal game after they claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title over top-ranked Inderkum on Dec. 6. The Mustangs barely had time to enjoy that win before getting back to work, watching film and dissecting the game plan of the Ugly Eagles.
After winning the toss, the home team opted to take the opening kickoff and were held in check, turning the ball over on downs to the Mustangs. But Oakdale’s first possession was cut short on an interception. The stout defensive unit for Oakdale returned the favor a few plays later with a fumble recovery, as neither team could get much going in the opening few minutes.
After holding Clayton Valley back again, a costly Oakdale penalty gave them a second chance and they didn’t waste it, scoring their first touchdown of the game with a little over a minute to play in the first quarter. The extra point was no good, but the host team had a 6-0 lead.
Clayton Valley’s Miles Harrison ultimately proved too powerful and too fast to handle, working off his blocks and finding the holes in the seam to torch the Mustangs for over 200 yards by himself. The Ugly Eagles added a late touchdown in the second quarter and got the 2-point conversion for a 14-0 lead at the half, adding another score in the third with 6:21 to play to go up 21-0.
Regardless of the scoreboard, the Oakdale fans that made the trip continued to cheer on the team and the Mustangs had several promising drives that just couldn’t quite get to paydirt, including a seemingly completed touchdown pass late in the third quarter in the end zone that was ruled incomplete, as the ball fell from the receiver’s hands as he came down in between a pair of Ugly Eagles.
With just under three minutes to play in the game, another Clayton Valley score made it 28-0 but Oakdale would avoid the shutout with a huge Brad Aquino gain on the next possession, setting up a 45-yard scamper from C.J. Domingo for an Oakdale touchdown. The point after was good for the 28-7 final.
“I love the way you guys played tonight,” head coach Trent Merzon hollered to his team in the postgame huddle, trying to be heard over the music blaring from the Clayton Valley P.A. system. “I thought you represented yourselves well, represented your community … I know it hurts. But I am proud of you.”
Oakdale had hoped to pull off the upset but undefeated Division II Clayton Valley, fourth ranked in Northern California going in, had other ideas. Fighting hard until the final whistle, the Mustangs were defeated on the field but unbroken in spirit.
“We had a boost in confidence last week but this team was great,” said junior Darus Nelson. “We knew this week we were going to have to work harder.”
Coach Merzon knew it was a tough loss for his team, but he couldn’t have asked more of them.
“I thought our kids did everything we had to do, they played with heart, they played with passion, I really couldn’t be prouder,” the coach noted. “To win this, we probably needed to be perfect … and we weren’t perfect.”
To their fans and a supportive community, though, the Mustangs brought plenty of accolades home for this season, getting a share of the Valley Oak League title and then hitting their stride in the playoffs, taking the Section crown and getting the championship game berth.
They finished with a record of 13-2.
“This is a great group of guys to be with,” said quarterback Adam Olsen of his Mustang teammates. “It’s just too bad it’s over.”
He noted, however, that going into next season as defending Section champions will give the Mustangs plenty to work for, wanting to keep the tradition of winning alive.
For senior C.J. Domingo, getting the lone Oakdale touchdown in the final game is something he will cherish.
“I wanted to do something big, I didn’t know if I was going to get hurt, if I was going to hurt someone or what, I just knew I wanted to do something big in my last game,” he said, chuckling. “Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get that far (to the end zone), but my guard got the pull, I saw a lane and I ran as fast as I could.”
Merzon said he knew his team would be in for a fight, facing off with one of the top teams in the state and having to move up a division for the final game.
“We ran into a Division II team that’s the fourth best in Northern California, regardless of division,” Merzon said, adding that his Mustangs gave them a tough battle. “These guys just amazed me. Unbelievable.”
It was a sentiment echoed by senior Landen Ichord, one of this year’s team captains.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ichord said, “playing with this team. I couldn’t be happier to play with these guys. But I can’t take anything away from Clayton Valley, they are a very good football team.”
Ichord said he doesn’t plan on playing in college, so Saturday night was his final gridiron contest.
“It has been an honor,” he said.