Pushed to Saturday afternoon for fan safety, it was the referees’ calls that nearly started a riot at the second round playoff match-up between the Oakdale High Mustangs and the Sacramento High School Dragons on Saturday, Nov. 23. The 9-2 Dragons had not won a playoff game in over 40 years until last week when they beat Benicia 40-35 in a first round match-up.
This week, they put their second playoff game in as many weeks in the win column, defeating the visiting Oakdale Mustangs by a final of 41-21, ending the season for head coach Trent Merzon and his troops.
Early on, Sac High’s Damen Wheeler II, son of its assistant coach and former NFL player by the same name, took a post route 60 yards to put the Dragons up 6-0 in the first quarter.
Oakdale, no stranger to taking out talented Sacramento teams after last year’s 14-2 run, had stout linebacker West Simpson sitting on the sideline with an injury in the early going and went head up with the Dragons’ 5-11 196-pound beast Lonny Powell, when Mustang sophomore Broderick Medrano collided with the Dragon junior early on in the game.
Powell would recover to terrorize the Mustangs for 10 tackles, two sacks and a jarring shot on quarterback Dillon Tamburrino that forced a fumble, while chugging 52 yards on one run and barreling into the end zone for a 13-7 second quarter lead.
Kyle Osborne and Christian Johnson each had interceptions for Oakdale even though the Dragon combination of Stephens - Powell -Wheeler was a matchup nightmare for the Mustang secondary.
Despite being well protected by a Dragons line with a dangerous roster of playmakers at his disposal, Dragon’s QB Caleb Rodgers was largely off-target as the two teams battled back and forth.
Mustang defenders Chase Higgs and Landon Ichord had their hands full with the running game of their opponent, but Ichord would eventually bring the Dragons quarterback to the ground.
After Brock Whiting broke off a couple strong runs – drilling Dragons linebacker Curtis Clark at the end of one sprint – it seemed that Oakdale would stay ahead for good when Max Stevens put the Mustangs ahead 14-13 with his second touchdown of the game at the end of the first half.
During the intermission, no one mentioned theories nor bought into the notion that an all-Sacramento officiating crew would play politics with high school football. If the red and gold crowd in the stands thought there was bias by the officials in a sometimes controversial first half, the referees reaffirmed the thoughts in the second half, penalizing the Mustangs for a string of personal fouls, holding penalties and several other judgment calls that still had the Mustangs in control when Whiting punched in a touchdown for Oakdale to go up 21-13 in the third quarter.
The Dragons, however, soon stepped in front of a Tamburrino pass and returned it 45 yards from the goal-line leading to another Dragons score.
On the ensuing kickoff safety Kyron Basped then mugged Oakdale’s C.J. Domingo, stripped him of the ball and 40 yards later was waving it over his head like a captured flag to the community in the end zone.
From then on the Dragons were spitting fire, torching the Mustangs for 28 points that were never answered leading to a final score of 41-21 and the end of the Mustang season.
Coach Merzon didn’t search for excuses and was straightforward in his final postgame speech to a team that looked poised for another postseason win halfway through the third quarter but, in the end, couldn’t close out Sac High.
The varsity, in addition to an influx of talent from the JV squad, heads into the offseason with perfect motivation to come back stronger after feeling like they let one slip away on the road in the second round.
Seniors Osborne, Higgs and Tamburrino were among the last players to leave the darkening Sac High setting on Saturday, where the calls never came and the lights never turned on for the Mustangs, who left through a postgame parking lot mixture of leftover tailgating aromas and a slightly torched smell that could only be described as Dragon breath.