In their final game of the season, the Oakdale varsity football Mustangs earned a title few ever achieve – state champions.
Only a few seasons ago, the Mustangs came close to winning a CIF State Championship, ultimately falling just short. Fast forward to 2016 and the Mustangs found themselves once again playing for the prestigious title. This past weekend the team – along with stands full of Oakdale fans – was in La Jolla to take on the Bishop’s Knights in the 2016 CIF Division 3A State Bowl. It was all Oakdale, as the Mustangs shut out their opponent 47-0, leaving no doubt which team was the class of the division.
The Mustangs’ dominant performance began with the vocal and emotional support from the large crowd that made the nearly nine-hour trip to support their beloved hometown team.
“This was a big win for our community. The community came out in large numbers and made the trip to support us. It means a lot to the team,” said head coach Trent Merzon.
This is Merzon’s 17th season as Mustangs head coach, and this is the first State title for the school under his leadership.
“Very proud of this group, they are a special team,” Merzon said.
Oakdale’s defense bullied the smaller Knights throughout the evening, including on the opening drive. Facing a third and short from the Oakdale 22, Josh Jacobson burst through the line and slammed Bishop’s quarterback, Jeffrey Jackson for the sack to force fourth and long. Jackson and company went for it on fourth down and came up empty as the pass sailed over everyone’s head in the end zone for the turnover on downs.
Defense turned into offense for the Mustangs and Will Semone capped off his record-setting season with a big championship performance. Semone rushed for 219 yards on 28 carries, which gave him a total of 2,851 rushing yards for the season, a Stanislaus District record. Semone scored six touchdowns on the ground for Oakdale in the state championship win.
“We were focused and ready to play. It was a big stage and we handled it well, the team as a whole played great and that’s how we won tonight, and really all season,” Semone said.
His eight-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left in the first quarter was the lone score of that frame, giving Oakdale an early 6-0 advantage. The second quarter saw big plays from the Mustangs on both sides of the ball, leading to a 21-point second quarter for Oakdale to give them a commanding 27-0 halftime advantage.
The quarter began with a Marc Dickson to Semone pass completion that got the crowd to its collective feet. Just three plays later Semone cashed in on his second touchdown of the evening on an 18-yard run with 11:26 left in the half. He then scored from three and then from 22 yards out in the quarter.
On the defensive side, Oakdale continued to terrorize Bishop’s with a sack by Matt Kjeldgaard, hard hits by Jacobson, Jacob Peterson, Zac Campbell, Cullen Bearden, Jace Krick and others, all contributing to make Bishop’s long night miserable.
With a 27-0 lead late in the third, Jacobson found himself at the right place, at the right time. He had eyes on the Bishop’s quarterback the whole play and when Jackson attempted a pass to his wide receiver, Jacobson made him pay with a pick-six from 65 yards out with 2:35 remaining in the quarter. It was the only score of the quarter.
“Our defensive line applied pressure to Bishop’s all night and when they (the offense) gets flustered we take advantage of it,” Jacobson said.
Oakdale posted 14 more points in the fourth quarter with a running clock, on a six-yard run and a 55-yard run, both by Semone, to clinch the title.
“We refused to be denied. I honestly feel that we had an advantage in that stadium,” Merzon noted. “Obviously we would have loved to have had that game at our place, but the trip gave us 48 hours to prepare as a team. The long bus ride, and everything else gave us that much more time together as a team to prepare and we used that time wisely with game film and a game plan.”
The team headed out the day before the game, allowing plenty of travel and prep time before getting on the field.
Merzon said the 2016 squad made the most of what they had, capping off their memorable season with the coveted state title.
“It’s all about opportunity. We have had very talented teams and players play in this program. What differentiated them (this year’s squad) from other teams in the past was they had different opportunities,” said the coach. “We can play only who was on the schedule, and as fate would have it, the roads led us to a State Championship this year.”
Fate, plenty of hard work, preparation, grit and that Oakdale mentality.
“We are a weight room team, we are a tough team. We wanted to turn this into a fist fight in a phone booth. We wanted to make a statement and that was ‘Refuse to go down without a fight’ and the boys did that,” Merzon said.
Refusing to go down, period, saw the Mustangs bring home the CIF State Division 3A Championship.