It took 49 carries for Sonora High’s varsity football team to eclipse the 200-yard rushing mark on Friday.
Marcus Northcutt did it in 10.
Oakdale High’s senior wingback sprung loose on runs of 92 and 80 yards, scoring three times as the host Mustangs claimed a 49-21 victory over Sonora during the 95th meeting of the two storied programs at The Corral on Senior Night.
Northcutt ran for 221 yards on 10 touches, caught three passes for 39 yards and returned a punt 65 yards to pay dirt behind the stellar block of fellow senior Josh Watts near the goal line.
“It means a lot to me to do this after all these years,” Northcutt said afterwards. “It’s a dream come true to have this kind of game against Sonora on Senior Night.”
The festivities celebrated the career of 21 seniors and gave way to an exciting game that didn’t truly put Sonora out of reach until a stunning flurry of events in the fourth quarter.
A 17-play drive gave the Wildcats opportunity to come within two scores with nine minutes remaining, but a pair of forced fumbles (that Sonora recovered) preceded a fourth-down stop at Oakdale’s own eight yard line.
The shifty runner exploded through the Sonora defense and down the left sideline for a majestic 92-yard touchdown with 8:30 to play. When Sonora punted three minutes later, Northcutt dazzled the home crowd with a weaving return across the field to give Oakdale a 49-14 lead.
Sonora quarterback Casey Holman and a fellow Wildcat converged on Northcutt at the end of the run, but both were blocked by Watts, who had sped up field for the final two blocks on a brilliant special teams play.
Holman would dash for a 56-yard score against Mustang reserves on the ensuing drive, but a running clock and a well-executed drive from Oakdale’s second-team offense would not allow another Sonora possession. Watts scampered for 51 yards to the Sonora 7-yard line, where Oakdale kneeled to finish the game.
The victory capped a perfect conference season and paved the way for Oakdale’s No. 1 seed into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
“If you didn’t enjoy that game then you don’t like (Valley Oak League) football,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said following the contest. “Now we have another season to get ready for.”
At 8-1 overall, Oakdale was the outright selection as the No. I seed in D-III after undefeated Placer was designated for a tough D-IV bracket. The Mustangs host an upstart Pacheco (5-5) team that qualified for the postseason in the program’s first year with seniors on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Mustangs are on the opposite side of the D-III bracket than No. 2 seed Vista del Lago (9-1) and fellow VOL teams Sierra (9-1) and Manteca (6-4). Most importantly, Oakdale is opposite No. 6 seed Inderkum (8-2) considered the stiffest opposition to Oakdale’s title hopes in the bracket. Inderkum plays in the tough Tri-County League and landed impressive nonleague wins against the likes of Pleasant Grove (No. 10 seed D-1), Terra Nova (Central Coast Section power) and Spanish Springs (Nevada Northern Region D1 semifinalist). Inderkum lost to the No. 1 seed in the SJS DII bracket (Yuba City) just 49-42.
If Oakdale beats Pacheco, they will host the winner of Patterson (7-3) and Benicia (7-3) on Nov. 16 for a shot at hosting the semifinals.
The chance of hosting three more games didn’t diminish the importance of Senior Night on Nov. 2, and the presence of a huge home crowd, loud visiting crowd and even 80 members of the Sonora band certainly amplified that point.
Sonora dominated the time of possession with long drives from a triple-option offense, but was stopped on fourth down twice. The Wildcats couldn’t match an Oakdale offense that scored on every possession but the last of each half. Northcutt ran for 80 yards to the Sonora 4-yard line as time expired in the second quarter.
Spencer Thomas tossed a 15-yard score to Austin Jones (two catches, 27 yards) for Oakdale’s first score of the game but Holman answered with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Joe Maloney.
Thomas scored on a clever 13-yard keeper three minutes later and watched a big gang-tackle from Mustang defenders stop Holman on a fourth-down rush with 1:43 remaining in the first half.
Northcutt scored from 30 yards out to open the second half, then saw Oakdale gain a serious lead when DeWayne Finney dove to deflect a pass away from the arms of a Sonora receiver and into the arms of Bastian Jimenez, who rumbled 54 yards for a score.
“It just popped up and I caught it,” Jimenez said. “I really have to give props to DeWayne for making the play.”
Sonora closed the gap to 28-14 when a deceptive halfback pass went 71 yards for a score in the third quarter, but Nikk Ryan (11 rushes, 76 yards) dashed 41 yards on a bum ankle to make it a three-score lead with 5:06 remaining in the period.
The ensuing defensive stand would end Sonora’s comeback hopes and Northcutt’s touchdowns would add the finishing touches.
Ten Oakdale defenders managed four or more tackles. Hondo Arpoika landed 11 tackles while Jimenez chipped in nine tackles. Miko Arpoika (six tackles) had a sack and forced fumble while Ryan (seven tackles) also knocked the ball loose. Nik Garza (six), Watts (five), Tanner Morgan (five), Brock Whiting (four), Eric Barragan (four) and C.J. Picinich (four) also contributed in the tackle department.
The Mustang defense has helped Oakdale outscore opponents 412-110 this season. They will look to stay sharp against a Pacheco team that carries a 234-243 ratio of points in 2012.
Friday’s playoff game begins at 7 p.m.