A man quietly approached the post-game huddle of Oakdale High football players and coaches on Friday with two small sons just tall enough to reach his knees.
“You see what happens when you try real hard and practice every day?” he told them. “You become champions.”
The boys nodded thoughtfully, and glanced up at the scene before them as emotional Oakdale players listened to some final words of coaching after a 49-14 triumph over the visiting Manteca Buffaloes in front of around 6,000 fans at The Corral.
The win guaranteed Oakdale (9-0) a share of the Valley Oak League title and further increased the Mustangs’ chances at the No. 1 overall seed in the Division III Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Manteca (8-1) showed some of the athleticism and discipline that carried them to eight consecutive victories to start the year, but failed to contain Mustang runners and punted or turned over seven of their first eight offensive possessions.
Oakdale has now defeated every 2011 opponent by over 25 points with just one game remaining on the conference docket ¾ though that game is a big one.
On Friday, Oakdale will travel to Dunleavy Field for a highly anticipated showdown with rival Sonora. Sonora (7-2) lost to Manteca by just two points and bounced Sierra 51-37 and East Union 54-17 in their previous two games.
“Sonora is a big game, just like this one was with Manteca,” Oakdale quarterback Spencer Thomas said. “It’s like we get to play two league title games in two weeks and we have to beat Sonora.”
Thomas put Manteca at a distance after rumbling to impressive scores of 32 and 60 yards on his first two carries of the game. He connected with Miko Arpoika for a 15-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter after Arpoika recovered a fumble that his twin brother (Hondo Arpoika) forced just two plays earlier.
The team had dedicated the game to the pair’s great grandmother, who passed away the morning before the game, and wore their emotions on their sleeves and wrists.
“We all had her name on tape around our wrists and we basically played for her tonight,” Miko said afterwards. “This team is like a family to me.”
The Arpoika twins accounted for three and a half of seven total sacks on Manteca quarterbacks, a surprise considering the size and pedigree of Manteca’s offensive line.
Oakdale held Manteca runners to an astounding 15 rushing yards on 27 carries. The Buffaloes did complete nine of 17 passes for 173 yards and two scores, but most came on a 60-yard drive in the second quarter and an 85-yard aerial performance in the final moments of the third quarter after a 49-7 Oakdale lead.
Oakdale’s offensive line was superb, and allowed Thomas to finish five of six for 98 yards and rush four times for 113 yards. He represented a solid portion of Oakdale’s 440 rushing yards, and watched his running backs explode for big gains.
Marcus Hernandez (12 carries, 183 yards) scored from four yards out with less than a minute to play in the first half and scored from one and 55 yards out in the third quarter.
Marcus Northcutt (9-99) broke loose for a 56-yard third quarter score while Max Dillwood (7-18) and Justin Martin (2-16) also moved the ball.
“We talked about focus and passion all week and I thought we had focus and passion on every single play,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “That’s a very good football team that we defeated, but we got rolling and our backs played well while our lineman played terrific up front.”
Abel Munoz recovered a blocked punt in the end zone with 45 seconds to play to bridge a nine-point gap, but Oakdale couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick and allowed a 38-35 Manteca win on Friday.
Oakdale came within a score after a big third quarter score, but long Manteca touchdown runs and a long jump-ball catch in the end zone gave the Buffaloes the late advantage.
Oakdale threw an interception on their final offensive drive to allow Manteca possession with under two minutes to play. The Munoz touchdown on special teams gave hope of a comeback, but the team fell just short.
“I thought our kids played hard and kept fighting until the end,” Oakdale coach Tim Meyer said. “Defensively we gave up too many big plays. I thought we did a good job on first and second down but they were able to convert on third down.
“We need to build off the good things we did this week and carry them over to our game against Sonora.”
Meyer credited some big offensive success to his offensive line and the backs who ran hard behind them. He said tight end Chase Higgs and quarterback Dillon Tamburrino made some big plays to keep Oakdale in the game.
Oakdale led 8-7 in the first quarter after a big rushing score and two-point conversion, but two costly turnovers led to Manteca touchdowns in a 28-20 Manteca win on Oct. 27.
The game was tied 14-all at the half. But Manteca scored twice in the third after a costly Mustang fumble. Oakdale’s 50-yard touchdown pass made it a one-score game, but the young Mustangs couldn’t nab another touchdown.