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Oakdale Wins Battle Of Section Finalists
9-21 OAK FB1
A diving Rancho Cotate defender can only get his hands on the foot of a leaping Marcus Hernandez of Oakdale during a 51-20 victory for the Mustang varsity football team on Friday. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

If Rancho Cotate High’s varsity football team baked the cake with consecutive fumbles in Oakdale territory to start the game, then Oakdale linebacker Bastian Jimenez added the frosting by grabbing a fourth quarter fumble and rumbling 55 yards to the dinner plate during a 55-21 gorging of the visiting Cougars on Friday.
“The scoop-and-score is something that we work on in practice, so I knew just what to do when they fumbled,” Jimenez said.
Oakdale capitalized on five Rancho Cotate turnovers, led 31-7 at the half and displayed spectacular balance on their offensive attack to oust a team that made the Northern Section Division II finals a season ago.
Oakdale, Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finalists in 2010, ended a strenuous preseason schedule with a spotless record and hosts Sierra on Friday to begin a long-awaited Valley Oak League campaign.
“We scheduled a pretty good preseason and every game provided a different kind of test,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “We are 3-0 and that is something to be proud of, but right now we really don’t have time to be proud of it.
“Sierra is coming to our place and they beat us the last time they were in our stadium,” Merzon added. “If we don’t beat Sierra, I don’t think anybody in our league will. If we blink, we are 0-1 and we just lost a title.”
That 2009 loss was a 44-42 thriller that Sierra won after a 50-yard field goal to take the lead in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Oakdale had a chance to re-claim the lead as time expired, but couldn’t match the effort with a game-ending kick.
Oakdale has one of the best kickers in the state this year in Justin Martin. He gave Oakdale a 3-0 lead nearly four minutes into this week’s game after his first converted field goal was called back on a false start. Seconds later he split the uprights with a 32-yard boot.
Rancho Cotate fumbled the ball away just three plays into their ensuing drive at their own 10-yard-line. Marcus Hernandez (29 carries, 148 yards, four touchdowns) would score two plays later, and repeated the effort just two and half minutes later when another Cougars fumble gave Oakdale the ball at the Rancho Cotate 36-yard-line.
And it didn’t get much better for the visiting team.
The third Cougars fumble awarded Oakdale the ball at midfield, and Hernandez scored from a yard out for a 24-point swing with four minutes to play in the opening half.
Rancho Cotate finally broke free for a big play on the first play of their ensuing drive when Ricky Garcia found Yousef Khoury on a 76-yard toss and score.
Oakdale responded by chewing up the clock with an eight play drive that spanned 71 yards and culminated with the fourth and final goal line score from Hernandez on third and two with only seven seconds remaining in the half.
The score was one of only two touchdowns that Oakdale scored without the aid of a Rancho Cotate turnover. The second came on the Mustangs’ first drive of the second half, when a Cougars punt set up Martin for a 10-yard reverse play to pay dirt.
Burly Rancho Cotate fullback Vaimaa Taito scored two plays later on a 77-yard explosion up the middle of the field, but another fumble gave Oakdale good field position at the end of the third quarter.
Mustang quarterback Spencer Thomas (9 for 14, 164 yards) capitalized by expertly leading receiver Austin Jones into the end zone on a 24-yard scoring strike.
Jones finished with four catches for 87 yards. Two of his grabs were diving fingertip catches that Rancho Cotate defenders had no chance of preventing.
“He’s just getting better and he’s a good weapon for us,” Merzon said. “He had a great football game.”
The junior played defensive end a season ago at the junior varsity level, but has made huge strides to the benefit of the varsity offense in 2011.
“Coach Merzon decided to move me to wide receiver this year and I have really liked it,” Jones said. “The offensive line has been awesome and Spencer is a great quarterback.”
Oakdale finished with 412 yards of offense to 290 from Rancho Cotate. Marcus Northcutt ran 17 times for 82 yards while Martin took seven touches for 33 yards.
The Mustang defense will look to nab more turnovers this week against a Sierra offense that thrives on the success of junior speedster Anthony Cota. The 6 foot, 1 inch 205-pound standout sports one of the best résumés in the section after 72 carries for 494 yards and seven touchdowns in only three contests this season.
Sierra is 1-2 on the season after three games against Division I opponents. They fell 19-10 to Enochs to open the year, blasted Grace Davis 40-14 and fell 40-33 in a close game with Sacramento area stalwart, Laguna Creek. That game was on Sept. 9, leaving the Timberwolves with two weeks (Sept. 16 bye) to prepare for the Mustangs.