It was apparent after a 21-20 defeat on Friday, that the familiar splash of scarlet and gold stretched in stripes along white uniforms was the only glimpse of the storied Oakdale High rushing attack that die-hard Mustang football fans have grown accustomed to.
On a warm night when Oakdale opened the 2013 season at a highly regarded Division I power, a Mustang roster featuring just two returning starters failed to match the dynamic rushing offense that carried the last three Oakdale teams to section title appearances.
Instead they were better.
Oakdale rolled over the host Turlock defense with 323 rushing yards, amassing the greatest ground-attack against the stout Bulldog defense since a 56-6 victory in 2009.
It was a contest that didn’t leave Oakdale much room for projected success. Turlock returned prolific starters (quarterback Sean Downs and tight end Patrick Green), gained offseason repute with an emerging backfield star (Jevon Hogan) and carried a defensive reputation bolstered by tenacious efforts against championship Oakdale teams in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
But Oakdale would not be dissuaded.
The Mustangs saw three ball-carriers nab hand-offs from 48 of the 55 Oakdale snaps. Junior Brock Whiting, in his debut performance as a Mustang fullback, bullied through the imposing Turlock defenders for 105 yards on 18 carries. He escaped for a 13-yard jaunt into the end zone at the cusp of an unexpected 11-play march-and-score to open the game.
“They didn’t take us serious coming into this,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “They thought they were just going to show up and beat us.
“The message was sent during the first drive of the game, and it took the wind out of their sails.”
Sophomore Darus Nelson ran 19 times for 112 yards while Max Stevens took 10 touches 107 yards downfield for two scores.
Oakdale outgained Turlock 329-297, but lost two fumbles and failed to collect a pivotal extra point when a two-point conversion was called back (chop block by the kicker) and ultimately went wide left on the final play of the third quarter.
In the fourth, wielding a 20-14 lead, Oakdale made youthful mistakes that ultimately decided the outcome.
The Mustangs failed to wrap-up Hogan (19-113) on a routine tackle past the line of scrimmage, and the speedy runner used one stiff-arm to find an outside lane for a 59-yard scamper to pay dirt. Turlock’s extra point caromed off the field goal post, but sliced over the crossbar for a one-point lead.
Oakdale would rally to extend a nine-play drive to the Turlock five yard-line after a failed onside kick, but Nelson lost control of the football while scrambling back to the line on a busted play.
Turlock recovered and gobbled up over four minutes of game time on their following drive. The Bulldogs punted into the OHS end zone with just over two minutes to play, but Mustang quarterback Dillon Tamburrino was intercepted after a miraculous one-handed tip-and-catch by Hogan on the ensuing play. Had Hogan missed his desperate swipe for the ball, it would likely have fallen into the waiting hands of C.J. Domingo, who had separated himself from the Turlock secondary.
“I asked our kids ‘if we make that last play over his hand, get in the end zone and win that game miraculously, are we a better team for it, and they all said ‘No’,” Merzon said. “They all get it. Our goal to play these (preseason) teams is to get better.
“We don’t care about losing. We don’t care about getting beat. It’s about getting better and getting ready for our league and a section playoff run.”
Oakdale held Downs, a dangerous dual-threat quarterback, to just 29 rushing yards on 15 carries (he was handed four one-yard losses on kneel-downs at the conclusion of each half). Downs did complete 8-of-11 passes for 85 yards and hit Green three times for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Oakdale fumbled away its only passing completion, and saw Tamburrino end 1-for-4 for six yards. The repeated rushing success left little room to test the arm to replace three-year Oakdale standout, Spencer Thomas (now playing for Delta College), or the hands to supersede graduated playmaker, Austin Jones (Willamette).
Overall, the hoard of incoming starters was brilliant. The offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage, runners landed a landmark game and defenders rallied to make big stops.
“Our kids take great pride in who we are,” Merzon said. “When we go on the road we represent our community.
“They were only able to beat us by one point. We made a few mistakes, but that’s what a young football team does. Are they better than us? Who would you put your money on next week?”