Much like their NFL counterparts, the San Francisco 49ers who had also started the season 1-2, Oakdale High jogged onto East Union’s football field with a chip on its respective shoulders and something (more) to prove.
So last year’s state-championship runners up “did what we do,” as said by junior running back Brock Whiting after an impressive 28-8 Valley Oak League opening win over the host Lancers.
Unleashing their own two-man version of Frank Gore, the Mustangs ran at will early on as Whiting’s junior backfield mate Max Stephens knifed through East Union for 97 of his 109 yards (on only 11 carries) and a touchdown.
Shutting down EU’s offense behind a gang-tackling defense that produced five quarterback sacks, the Mustangs galloped to a 28-0 lead and evened its overall record (2-2, 1-0 VOL).
“Our guards get off so quickly and our tempo is so fast,” explained Whiting, who banged inside and out for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tyler Williams broke free for 65 yards and a TD as the Mustangs quieted their critics. If there were any.
Dropping two season-opening games to highly rated teams by a total of only three points, Oakdale came back to whip an even more highly-rated Paraclete team last week before quickly dispatching the Lancers (1-3 overall, 0-1 VOL).
“That’s a no joke program right there,” said EU head coach Willie Herrera, who was pleased with his own team’s strong second-half play after the Mustangs ran out to a 28-0 lead.
“Everybody in the VOL knows Oakdale is the team to beat, and even though we knew we could have played better, they’re the best.”
Running behind a punishing offensive line and utilizing the deception of a well-versed wishbone team, the Mustangs struck quickly as Stephens keyed a 48-yard game-opening scoring drive with a 25-yard kickoff return.
Whiting gained 32 of the yards himself, scoring from one-yard out with 8:57 to go in the first quarter.
Oakdale’s second TD came courtesy of an outstanding sack by another junior standout, Nick Ruiz, who crushed EU QB Isaiah Gordon – one of five on the night by the constantly attacking Mustangs – for a 13-yard loss, creating a fumble that Ruiz scooped up on the home team’s 20-yard line.
Stephens ran it in from 13 yards out and the score was quickly 14-0.
Whiting’s second TD made it 21-0 before a strange, long, tedious referees’ delay that brought back two apparent EU TDs on the same drive.
But when a 40-yard catch and run by Taariq Davis brought the Lancers into scoring position, it was Kevin Corral corraling an end zone interception to snuff that idea.
Williams scored from five yards out in the third quarter, EU battling back to cut the final deficit to 28-8 on a safety due to a blown punt snap in the end zone and on a 26-yard heave and leap TD play.
The two-point conversion try was ended violently by head-hunting safety Tanner Morgan, who unloaded on EU’s Davis, forcing a fumble before he could reach the end zone.
So much for any “anxiety” for Oakdale’s been-there-done-that head coach Trent Merzon.
Which is why he didn’t like being asked if the Mustangs’ 1-2 start was ‘disappointing.’
Merzon was positively Jim Harbaugh-like.
Steely-eyed the veteran coach said, “I could care less if some people weren’t happy – if there were any because I sure haven’t met any around town myself. You can’t run a football program caring about what some people might think.
“As a head coach all you can do is lead, have a good work ethic, and keep on pushing through to help our team get better.”
Although “it was kind of sloppy” as Stephens said, it was an impressive all-around performance by a football team that has been places, seven straight VOL titles, the state-title game, and everywhere in between. And plans on continuing its annual quest for VOL, SJS and California state titles.
The Mustangs definitely left an impression on EU’s Herrera, whose team best all-around player Friday night, tailback/linebacker Victor Lopez, was chasing Stephens and Whiting all over the field.
“We could’ve played better but this is the best we’ve played them in the eight years I’ve been here,” said Herrera. “I have a lot of respect for Trent Merzon and his football program. They’re where everyone in the VOL wants to be.”