Anger? Anxiety? Apprehension?
But talk around town is never good at 0-2.
As the losses linger, even folks with no ties to the team start to wonder ‘what’s wrong with the Mustangs?’ and suddenly a Sac-Joaquin Section, Northern-California Championship and #2 ranking in state seems like so many seasons ago.
Oakdale, after breaking through to the state bowl game by dominating D-II Northern California in 2012, wasn’t ducking anyone in 2013, scheduling large-school Turlock and Northern Section power Enterprise in its first two games.
But two losses by a total of three points ratcheted up the tension heading into the Mustangs’ highly anticipated Friday night home matchup with Paraclete and while temperatures dropped with the sun to a cool breeze at game time, who could deny the heat?
School administrators, officials, former coaches; gatekeepers of Mustang tradition, lined the back of the end zone. And while the hometown fans loudly greeted the appearance of the Mustangs, nervous laughter filled the press box during pre-game.
“You see those weights on the roster?” stadium announcer and Voice of the Mustangs, Pete Simoncini, asked.
“Are the locals in for a rough night?” came the reply.
“Is the Pope Catholic?”
Yes, and so was Paraclete.
The Catholic school college prep powerhouse out of Lancaster, a high-desert military outpost located approximately 22 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the western Mojave, as of 2012, had seven former student athletes on NCAA Division I rosters and scores of others at DII, DIII and NAIA players under Coach Norm Dhalia. With league titles in six different decades and seven CIF crowns since 1997, Paraclete arrived with plenty of accolades to its credit. But if the Mustangs were feeling the heat, they found a way to extinguish the fire and took down the visitors in a 40-9 victory to get a win on the books.
Paraclete set up the game with Oakdale after being exposed to the Mustangs in last year’s State Bowl game, where the Mustangs were overmatched against the speed and talent of Gardena-Serra, a Southern California football factory that had multiple Division I signees on last year’s team and three receivers from its program playing for USC at the time. The silver lining in the State title game was the exposure of the Mustang program, long a force in the Central Valley, to the rest of the state and clearly despite being hit hard by graduation, was willing to take on the heavyweights in a brave new CIF world where pre-season strength of schedule and quality wins were critical in determining berths in Northern and Southern California title games.
After nail-biting losses in two straight games to Enterprise, the Northern Section 2012 champs and large-school neighbor Turlock, the Mustangs now faced Paraclete, coming off a 38-6 dismantling of Compton-Centennial, the Spirits appeared as tough in pre-game warm-ups as advertised.
On their second drive of the game, Paraclete’s tailback slashed through the secondary on an 11-yard touchdown run rerouting at the last second to greet a Mustang defender with a shot to the shoulder pads before spinballing into the end zone for the early lead. Oakdale’s offense responded with a solid drive, finished off by a Max Stevens touchdown, but the extra point was blocked. Despite being slowed by penalties and dropped passes on first and second downs, Paraclete’s QB converted three third down conversions of 20 yards or longer and kept taking repeated shots down the sideline. Even after a mistake-filled first half came to a close with the Mustangs leading 13-6, Paraclete got the ball back with under 25 seconds and after a long pass play, converted a field goal to make it 13-9. But could Paraclete, with two-way players tiring in an unfamiliar environment, hit and get hit for four quarters and walk out winners in the Cowboy Capital of the West?
Not on this night.
In the third, Paraclete marched toward the end zone, but Oakdale’s Tanner Morgan got a pick, and the following Mustang offensive drive was finished off by a bruising Brock Whiting touchdown run. On the ensuing drive, Oakdale’s defense forced a fumble that was recovered by Brynden McAndrews in the end zone and the Spirits were broken.
Morgan had two interceptions on the night and as Paraclete’s two-way players tired and their receivers began hearing footsteps across the middle, the Mustangs dominated with big hits.
On the next drive, Max Stevens was the red zone answer for the Mustangs again, scoring the last of his three TD’s on the night to make it 40-9, sending Paraclete home unhappy.
Paraclete’s coach was complimentary of the Mustangs, but couldn’t quite answer how the Spirits, 12-2 last year and CIF finalists four of the last five years, fell apart so fast in the third quarter and ran out of gas in the fourth.
The host Mustangs improved to 1-2 with the dominating win.
Not really. Not at all. At least not until VOL starts.
Oakdale at East Union, Friday night, 7 p.m.