The path to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship football game at Sacramento State University goes through The Corral at Oakdale High.
Top-seeded Oakdale punished No. 8 seed Vista del Lago 49-7 on Nov. 18 to reach Friday’s SJS semifinal against visiting Casa Roble.
A win propels the Mustangs (12-0) to Sac State for a second consecutive year.
A loss ends Oakdale’s season, but Mustang football players have no plans to trade pads for basketball shorts or wrestling singlets anytime soon.
“I forgot about basketball to tell you the truth,” Oakdale running back and linebacker Marcus Hernandez said. “It feels good to be where we are at right now.”
Hernandez nabbed an early Christmas present on the first snap from scrimmage after Vista del Lago quarterback Aaron Young threw a pass into his arms from the Eagles’ own 21 yard-line. Hernandez ran the interception back 24 yards for a score just 16 seconds into the first quarter.
“I looked at the quarterback’s eyes and I saw he was looking to the other side,” Hernandez said. “I started going that way and he just coughed it up. I caught it and ran for a touchdown.”
Hernandez ran for a 55-yard touchdown just three minutes later and watched teammate Justin Martin return an interception 42 yards for a touchdown with over two minutes to play in the opening quarter.
It was a start Vista del Lago could never recover from.
“To get a jump start with two defensive scores in the first quarter of a huge football game like this is big,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “I thought the first quarter spoke for itself.
“Fourteen points our defense, seven points our offense and they didn’t have any.”
The Eagles didn’t score until a nine-play drive in the fourth quarter against Oakdale reserves and a running clock. Young (21 for 39, 160 yards) completed only five of his first 15 passes, despite constant looks to his big play weapon, Logan Smith.
Smith (senior) entered the game with the state record for receptions in a single season, and added 15 catches for 108 yards to his state record (152 catches). He was awash in emotion after the game.
“It sucks,” Smith said. “You expect more out of your team and more of our players, and I wish I could have led them a little better into a position to go out and get the ‘W’.”
The Oakdale defense never let Smith catch a pass over 20 yards and finished with three interceptions, five sacks, and a fumble recovery.
Manny Hernandez (interception), Nikk Ryan (sack, fumble recovery), Martin (interception, forced fumble, five tackles), Miko Arpoika (two sacks) and Hondo Arpoika (two sacks, four tackles) were a constant hindrance to the VDL offense.
“We came out strong and expected to play well after practicing hard all week,” Hondo Arpoika said. “The pressure tonight was the big key and we needed that pressure to keep them from throwing the ball into our secondary.”
The Oakdale offense, meanwhile, punted away its second and third possessions, but chewed up clock time with an 11-play drive across 62 yards at the start of the second quarter. The drive ended on a nine-yard touchdown run from quarterback Spencer Thomas, who was just getting started. Thomas went on to sprint 44 yards to pay dirt on a crafty third-down play from spread formation 1:43 into the second half and finished with 102 yards on only six carries.
Marcus Hernandez gave Oakdale a six-score lead his final run of the game (24 yards) and ended with 13 touches for 123 yards and three scores (one defensive). Ryan scored from four yards out with over four minutes to play in the third for a 49-0 lead. Marcus Northcutt also ran for 58 yards on 10 rushes while Martin (four rushes, 62 yards) was a part of Oakdale’s 407 total rushing yards. Thomas was 1-for-4 for 11 yards in a game that required little aerial work against the VDL defense.
Vista del Lago claimed a second straight Sierra Valley Conference title and won a playoff game for the first time its five-year history, but saw season completion at The Corral.
“We knew coming into this game we were going to be facing a pretty good football team, but this is where we want to be,” Eagles coach Chris Jones said. “We want to be a team that year in and year out does the things that Oakdale does.
“They have a great program and (coach Merzon) does a great job with these guys.”