As a quarterback known for his accuracy, there isn’t much Oakdale High senior Spencer Thomas misses.
He certainly didn’t miss the sight of heavily recruited Clayton Valley running back/defensive back Joe Protheroe hobbling into position while Oakdale trailed 17-14 in the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation Division II NorCal Regional Football Championship Bowl Game at Lincoln High in Stockton on Saturday.
With less than a minute to play in the third quarter of the Dec. 8 contest, Thomas reared back and launched a deep ball well over Protheroe’s head and into the waiting arms of senior teammate Austin Jones, who took the 70-yard reception to pay dirt for a lead Oakdale would not relinquish.
The Mustangs stopped both of Clayton Valley’s final drives safely away from the Oakdale end zone and erupted into ecstasy with a loud and boisterous fan base after snaring a 27-24 win, the NorCal plaque and historic entry into Saturday’s CIF State Football Championship Division II Bowl Game in Carson.
Clayton Valley led Oakdale 9-7 at the half, but soon trailed after the Mustangs marched 66 yards on 14 plays on the first possession of the third quarter. Oakdale would score when Jones dove to corral a deflected pass, but Clayton Valley answered four minutes later on Tanner Wraa’s eight-yard scamper into the end zone.
When the Eagles came out to defend the ensuing drive, Thomas couldn’t help but notice Protheroe’s ailments.
“I saw him limping and figured that Austin would run faster than him,” Thomas said. “He sure did.”
A week removed from a victory in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals, Thomas finished 10 for 18 for 227 yards and four touchdown passes against a prolific defense and favored program that captured the North Coast Section Division II crown.
Calhisports.com predicted Oakdale to lose the game 34-21 while maxpreps.com had Oakdale falling 35-31.
On the field, it was much different.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a miracle because we worked hard all week long, but it sure feels awesome,” Thomas said. “We were the first team to make it to NorCal and now we are the first (Oakdale) team to make it to state.
“It’s a great feeling.”
Jones had six catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
“That long touchdown was our bread and butter,” Jones said. “You can’t ask for a better throw from a quarterback. I was sprinting for my life and I wasn’t getting caught.”
Eddie Machado hauled in a touchdown pass in the first half and intercepted two passes by Clayton Valley quarterback Michael Protheroe during the game. His second pick came on the last play of the third quarter, just two plays after the 70-yard score from Jones. The turnover gave Oakdale opportunity for a short drive which culminated when Oakdale receiver DeWayne Finney won a jump ball in the end zone for a 27-17 lead over the Eagles.
Clayton Valley would fire back with a score to come within three, but a big play Oakdale defense was far from finished. After a fake punt failed to convert on fourth down, Clayton Valley was poised for a key possession at midfield. Things went awry for the Eagles when Oakdale’s C.J. Picinich dove into the backfield just moments after the snap and captured Wraa for a five yard loss on third and five.
“That is the most memorable moment I have ever had in high school,” Picinich said. “The crowd went crazy.”
The Eagles attempted a trick play on their ensuing fourth-down play, but a deceptive delay run from Jesse Medrano was swallowed for no gain.
Oakdale was forced to punt with 36 seconds to play, but a gallant tackle from Bastian Jimenez on a pass of just five yards made Clayton Valley scramble back to spike the ball with only six seconds left. When Michael Protheroe left the game after losing his composure, backup quarterback Garrett Nelson rolled right to prepare for one final heave into Oakdale territory. He didn’t see Oakdale defensive end Nikk Ryan (six tackles), who spun away from would-be blockers and chased down Nelson to end the game.
“I just wanted to end it,” Ryan said. “I was ready to celebrate and come home. I knew I had to get to him no matter what.”
All 11 starters on the Oakdale defense accounted for at least three tackles against Clayton Valley’s double-wing attack that rolled to over 300 rushing yards on 12 occasions in 2012. Oakdale held Clayton Valley to 237 yards on the ground and saw Jimenez snare nine tackles (one for loss) to lead the team.
Nik Garza blocked an extra point, recovered a fumble and nabbed seven tackles while Tanner Morgan had eight. Picinich had seven tackles (two for loss) while Eddie Machado finished with eight.
Miko Arpoika, Hondo Arpoika and Eric Barragan all managed five tackles while Brock Whiting (four tackles) recovered a fumble that DeWayne Finney (three tackles) forced.
Oakdale was held to 117 rushing yards (Ryan 14-45, Marcus Northcutt 14-53), but made the difference across a 15-minute span in the second half where Thomas was 6 for 6 for 163 yards.
“I thought Spencer was awesome,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “What an unbelievable effort by everybody out there.”
Merzon was a bit at a loss for words amidst a celebration that started after the Ryan sack and continued during the plaque presentation, a romp down the sideline and a team photo.
“Our goal wasn’t to win NorCal and wasn’t to get to state,” Merzon said. “Our goal was to win a section title and we accomplished that last week. We coaches were asking ourselves what is left in the tank after you reach your goal and you have done what you wanted to accomplish. How do you get it going again?
“I didn’t really know what we were going to get and I think they were in the same boat over there,” Merzon added. “Our kids are tough.”