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Playoffs Start Friday - Oakdale Sets Aside Rival Sonora In VOL Finale
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Brock Whiting busts through the Sonora defense for a first quarter touchdown run that put the Mustangs in control of the game that they went on to win, 28-21. - photo by Photo Courtesy Of Mary Hackbarth

Pressure’s on Patterson.

Oakdale’s varsity football team, which may as well have started its playoff run two weeks ago when a loss to Kimball put it on must-win status, punched its ticket to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with a 28-21 stuffing of age-old rival Sonora in the last Valley Oak League meeting of the two clubs.

Both are single high school towns and have been hitting each other since 1922 with helmets and pads and, as witnessed with this year’s matchup, just about everything else on plays near to and far away from the ball. Sonora came into this year’s finale playing for pride and a chance to wound Oakdale’s by knocking it out of the playoffs in the last game of the season, and they had a perfect chance to in the second quarter with the teams tied at seven after breakaway runs by both squads electrified the crowd. But the Mustangs would not be denied a trip to the postseason by anyone, certainly not the Wildcats.

Sophomore Darus Nelson, somehow slipped wide-open into the end zone, and settled under a rainbow pass that was more like a punt as it plummeted towards him. As the stadium rose and the ball descended, so did a Sonora defender who had a free shot as Nelson and the stadium waited for the ball. Nelson was smacked to the turf just an instant after he touched the ball, but held on to put the Mustangs up 14-7 and then they extended it the lead to 21-7 at the half.

Now, after running a gauntlet of tough pre-season scheduling and making it through some mid-season shakiness, Oakdale is looking rough and ready as it rides into the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for a first-round date with a suddenly vulnerable Patterson team on Friday, Nov. 15.

The Tigers, out for the undefeated record and Western Athletic Conference crown last week at small school power Central Catholic, had its hopes dashed as their rival Raiders ran off with the WAC title. Patterson had the lead at the half, 13-3, but were shut out in the second half, eventually falling 17-13 to the Raiders.

One wonders what rhetoric is being raised in Patterson coach Nick Marchey’s talks with his team as they try to recover in time to host their biggest playoff game in years. In the driver’s seat just last Friday, but now suddenly on the endangered list with another local power coming to town, the pressure of the playoffs is where the wheels fall off for the Tigers once-dream season or the program pulls off one of the biggest wins in its history.

The winner on Friday of the Mustangs-Tigers match up will take that momentum heading into Round 2 on Nov. 22 for a matchup against the #5 Sacramento - #12 Benicia winner.

After that, there would surely be no dodging of top seed American Canyon, and Oakdale’s team is ready for the run.

The now-seasoned core of juniors and seniors gained invaluable playoff experience in last year’s state runner-up finish – especially in early round routs and during the game against Sonora, Coach Arpoika was back in the headset on the sidelines, his twin sons and other members of last year’s inaugural Northern California Champions squad including Spencer Thomas and Tyler Malone there to support the 2013 team.

On defense, Kyle Osborne had his second pick in as many weeks and Broderick Medrano, closed fast and put a heat-seeking shot on Sonora’s Andrew Nessi near the Wildcat sideline where the tailback would soon be seen with his pads removed and shoulder in a sling. Medrano had his own sideline time with a trainer, performing the who-what-where-when-and-why one-foot wobble after coming off the field after the collision, but was enjoying the moment just as much as the rest of the team that doesn’t look ready to take their jerseys off just yet.

Oakdale has three established backs, two of whom sealed off Sonora’s chances with big plays. On special teams with Dillon Tamburrino holding, Lane Trapp is perfect for PAT’s if not for one block on the season, and when Nelson got stood up and stripped of the ball after a long run and a scrum ensued, senior linebacker Brynden MacAndrews had his back and snuck away out of the backside of the pile to recover it.

The Mustangs, after a Tamburrino pass, who connected over the middle with Dillon Farquhar early on and had it going with Nelson late in the game, threw a pick into double coverage deep in Sonora’s territory, Coach Trent Merzon congratulated the senior as he came off the field.

“Nice punt,” Merzon deadpanned.

The Mustang defense held and Nelson broke off a winded Sonora team with a long touchdown run to put the up Mustangs 28-7. In a rivalry that spanned 91 years, meeting for the last time as league rivals, the Mustangs left with the upper hand this year and all-time 57-31-5.

One of the state’s oldest rivalries ended respectfully.

Landon Ichord drilled Sonora quarterback Zach Atwood to the turf late in the second half and immediately helped him up heading back to the huddle. Sonora put two late touchdowns on the board, the last with 35 seconds left after a fourth and 9 penalty on the Mustangs gave Atwood one last series of downs to run the Wing-T.

On the third play from scrimmage, Atwood zigged and zagged into the end zone for a late score and two final shots by Mustangs defenders. The ensuing squib kick was recovered by Tyler Williams, who took it back to the sideline amid Mustang hollers and congratulations, from a collective unit that is playing fast and loose at just the right time.

Game time Friday night in Patterson, as the Oakdale team starts the second season, is 7 p.m.