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Miscues Cost Mustangs In Section Semifinal Contest
Late in the section semifinal contest Oakdale’s defensive line had to make key stops in the rain. DENNIS D. CRUZ/THE LEADER
Running back Zeke Saffar rushed for over 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in the team’s playoff loss. DENNIS D. CRUZ/THE LEADER

The rain held off until the final minute of Friday night’s semifinal playoff game, and in the final seconds, it was Rio Linda holding off the Mustangs in a 31-28 victory.

Down by a field goal, the Mustangs had the ball inside the Rio Linda three-yard line with five seconds remaining and Coach Trent Merzon called upon his running back Caleb Kuppens for the final play of the game. Kuppens, who finished with nine carries for 33 yards, rushed up the middle and was brought down inside the one-yard line as time expired.

“It was a tough loss. But I am proud of the way this team played, not just tonight but since late August. This is a tough team, a fun team with bright young men on it,” said coach Merzon following the game.

Rio Linda entered the tournament as the top seed and Oakdale was the five seed but seeding did not mean anything to the Mustangs.

“We don’t look at that stuff. At the end of the day, it’s us versus them and they came out on top,” said Mustangs quarterback Hayden Knittel.

Knittel completed six of nine passes for 146 yards, including a 31-yard pass to Jayden Williams to set up the final play of the game, putting the Mustangs in position for the potential game-winning touchdown.

In the first quarter Oakdale appeared on the fast track to an upset over the top ranked Knights as the visitors leaped to a 14-0 lead with 4:34 remaining in the opening quarter. Oakdale’s first points went on the board with a Max Moore one yard rush to go up 7-0. Zeke Saffar doubled up the lead when he broke off an 11 yard run.

The host Knights regrouped and quarterback Tyson Ybarra used his legs to help power the Rio Linda rally. Ybarra finished the night 0-for-3 in the air but rushed the ball a dozen times for 115 yards and scored a touchdown.

Rio tied the game with 7:03 remaining in the half on a Cameron Skattebo 16 yard rush. The Mustangs had an opportunity to go into halftime with a lead but came up short of the end zone as time expired. The two teams went into the half tied at 14.

In the third quarter, Moore rushed past the Knights defensive line and turned up field for a 44-yard run where he was just shy of the end zone. On the next play, Knittel attempted to run the ball in but fumbled the ball into the end zone for a turnover. On the next Mustangs possession, Saffar burned the Knights on a long 37-yard touchdown with 7:09 left to play in the third quarter to go up 20-14 following a missed point after touchdown attempt. The Knights took their first lead of the ball game when Ybarra exploded down the sidelines for a 48-yard touchdown to go up 21-20 midway through the third quarter. The high scoring quarter continued when Moore scored from five yards out with 1:12 remaining in the third. Moore finished the day with 98 yards rushing and caught three passes for 41 yards. Caleb Kuppens brought in the successful two point conversion to give the Mustangs a 28-21 advantage on the drive.

With 8:40 left in the contest Oakdale attempted to punish the Knights with their running game but Saffar coughed up the ball and it was recovered by Johnny Serrano on a 28-yard scoop and score to tie the game. Saffar finished the night with 21 carries for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

With 5:47 remaining in the contest Carson Frazee was called for pass interference for contact on the helmet on a third-and-11 play that extended the Knights drive, giving them a whole new set of downs from their own 33-yard line. The drive continued and the Knights scored the final points of the evening on a 21-yard field goal by kicker Andres Paez Ponce with 48 seconds left to play just as the rain began to fall.

With the loss, Oakdale ended its season but will look to regroup and get back to the postseason next year.