Bend, but don’t break.
Those words rang true for the Oakdale Mustangs varsity football team Saturday night after falling behind 20-0 after two quarters of play, only to stage a dramatic 27-23 comeback victory over the top seeded Inderkum Tigers. The victory at Lincoln High School in Stockton saw the Mustangs claim the 2014 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III Championship, bringing the coveted blue banner home on Dec. 6.
It was truly a tale of two halves as Inderkum controlled the first two quarters on both sides of the ball. Inderkum struck first on a deep 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jonathan Henry to his sure handed wide receiver Larry Hardy to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead with 1:57 in the first quarter. The point after attempt was no good. Henry and the Tigers continued to bully the Mustangs, as the signal caller connected on two more touchdown passes of 53 and 21 yards in the second quarter to build up a 20-0 halftime lead.
In what was clearly a night going south real quick, the Mustang faithful remained in their seats, continued to cheer and support their team regardless of what the scoreboard showed at Spanos Stadium at halftime.
“We have a great group of kids, and a great community. I told them before the game there is nothing they can do to make me appreciate this season more. Our goal was to come out and show our DNA,” an emotional Mustang head coach Trent Merzon said following the game, noting that fighting hard and winning is in Oakdale’s veins. “For whatever reason, we didn’t come out swinging in the first half. We made uncharacteristic mistakes. Not sure what happened in the first half, we entered the locker room with mixed emotions. We were mad, we were frustrated but we also knew we had another half of football left in us.
“Play hard, keep believing and do what was asked of our community and coaching staff, and that’s what the boys did in the second half. They never gave up.”
The Mustangs regrouped and entered the second half with determination, grit and poise. Having won the toss to start the game, Oakdale had deferred, and so got the second half kickoff. Running back Darus Nelson capped off Oakdale’s opening drive with a 16 yard rush to put the Mustangs on the board and Lane Trapp added the point after to make it 20-7. The six-play drive covered 48 yards and took less than two minutes off the clock. Oakdale’s defense then forced the Tigers to a quick possession, ending with a punt and the Mustangs went right back to work. On eight plays and a short field to work with, quarterback Adam Olsen found his wide receiver Bobby DePuy in the corner of the end zone from 11 yards out, extra point good, to bring the Mustangs within six, 20-14, with 5:17 remaining in the third quarter.
With each score, the Mustangs gained confidence and the crowd volume increased.
Oakdale’s offensive momentum carried over to the defense as they shut down the Tigers once again, with a fumble recovery giving the ball back to the Mustangs. Oakdale’s ground and pound offensive attack then mustered up a nine play, 63-yard drive that was capped off by fullback Frankie Trent as he rumbled his way through the Tigers defensive line and into the end zone from two yards out. With the extra point from Trapp, the Mustangs had their first lead of the night, 21-20, with 38 seconds to play in the third.
Inderkum shook off the third quarter cobwebs and answered with a nine play, 57 yard drive of their own but were stopped short of a touchdown, the drive resulting in a 19-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 23-21 lead with 8:04 left in regulation.
Olsen and the offense took the field and proved they wanted it more by mounting a nine play, 72 yard drive that featured a huge 53-yard pass completion to Brock Whiting. The Mustangs cashed in from the Tigers one yard line, going for it on fourth down, Trent busting his way through the defensive line and into the end zone to give the Mustangs a 27-23 lead with 3:54 remaining in the game.
With a four-point lead the defense continued its second half dominance, bending – but not breaking – as the Tigers looked to make a go-ahead drive in the final minute. A costly penalty brought back a big Tiger gain during that final drive, but they did make some headway and were getting within field goal range when a pass eluded the Tiger receiver and instead found the Mustang tandem of Kevin Corral and Ben Solario, with Solario’s interception sealing the Mustangs victory.
“I wanted to keep my composure. We never gave up, this is the biggest win that I have been a part of,” junior quarterback Olsen following the win.
Olsen, who was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the game, went 1-for-7 for 21 yards and an interception in the first half, but then turned it around in the second, completing all five attempts for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Leading the way on defense was senior Landen Ichord, who had six tackles and a fumble recovery.
“We did not play Oakdale football in the first half. We came out fired up in the second half, playing as a team, playing hard, and we played for each other,” Ichord said. “That’s how we play, we play for each other every night, every down, and that’s how we got it done. This blue banner means everything to us. I’ve already been a part of this before, but it feels great knowing that we brought another one back to Oakdale, and to coach and those who were not here in 2012.”