Friday Night Highlights
Who: Oakdale (2-1) at Sierra (3-0)
When: Friday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Sierra High’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium
Players to Watch: Sierra: #21 Anthony Cota (SR RB), #3 Guillermo Nunez (SR QB), #5 Jordan Lewis (SR WR), #7 Dakota Conners (JR WR), #8 Jayson Manuta (SR WR), #33 Reid Maestas (SR LB), #2 Garrett DeVillanueva (JR LB)
Oakdale: #5 Marcus Northcutt (SR RB), #1 Spencer Thomas (SR QB), #21 Josh Watts (SR RB), #9 Austin Jones (SR WR), #33 Miko Arpoika (SR DL), #52 Hondo Arpoika (SR OL/DL), #44 Nikk Ryan (SR DL/RB), #2 Bastian Jimenez (SR LB), #7 Nik Garza (SR S)
The Valley Oak League football season will only just begin on Friday, but preseason story lines have built the stage for a tremendous showdown at Daniel Teicheira Stadium in Manteca.
It’s the location of Oakdale High’s conference opener, where the Mustangs (2-1) will take on host Sierra (3-0) for what most expect to become the eventual VOL championship game.
“I told our kids it’s for the title,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said after Oakdale’s 35-14 win over Aptos on Sept. 7. “If we can’t get it done maybe nobody will.
“Our kids fully understand what is in front of us and we have got two weeks to get ready for a VOL championship game in round No. 1. I guarantee (Sierra coach Scott Harbison) is telling the Sierra Timberwolves the same exact thing at this same exact moment.”
Sierra outscored Division I Grace Davis and Laguna Creek by a combined 100-12 on the Timberwolves last two appearances on the gridiron. With speedy running back Anthony Cota sporting 537 rushing yards (and an 8.66 yards-per-carry average) with 12 touchdowns, Sierra represents the top threat to end Oakdale’s run of five consecutive VOL titles.
According to maxpreps.com, Cota’s 12 touchdowns this season are tops among running backs in California with three games recorded and fourth among all ball carriers in the state.
He gashed Oakdale for 109 yards (nine carries) in the first 12 minutes of the game to lead the Timberwolves to a 14-10 lead over Oakdale in the first quarter last year, but broke his forearm on a drive into Oakdale territory in the first minute of the second period. Sierra would miss a field goal on that drive and allow 35-unanswered points as Oakdale rallied to a 45-14 victory.
With Cota gone for the year, Sierra struggled to two more conference losses and at 5-5, missed the postseason. Oakdale went on to a 13-1 season, losing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game to eventual state bowl qualifier, Del Oro.
The Sierra defense was exposed by Tracy during a 32-26 victory to open the season. Tracy led 20-17 with a quarter to play, but was outscored 15-6 in the final quarter to surrender a defeat. The Bulldogs scorched Sierra for 354 rushing yards on the backs of five primary runners.
Oakdale will test Sierra’s ability to stop the run on the heels of seniors Marcus Northcutt, Josh Watts, Nikk Ryan and sophomore Max Stevens. Quarterback Spencer Thomas has also shown a tendency to target receiver Austin Jones, who has 12 catches for 218 yards thus far in 2012.
Aside from big plays surrendered to SoCal power Oceanside on Aug. 31, the Mustang defense has been incredibly stout in 2012. The first team Oakdale defense shut out Aptos, held Turlock to seven points and has been a constant harassment to opposing quarterbacks.
It’s an interesting challenge for Sierra’s spread offense that has stayed balanced with 385 passing yards and five scores this year. The offense is built around Cota, but runs through quarterback Guillermo Nunez (291 total yards), who played point guard on Sierra’s league champion basketball team.
Sierra will likely attack the Oakdale defense with rushing doses of both Nunez and Cota, but still threaten to toss the ball downfield (five receivers have receptions of 15 yards or more).
The team that wins will have the inside track to a conference championship, but Manteca (1-2), Kimball (1-2) and Sonora (1-2) don’t expect to go away quietly.