An historic and inspirational campaign by Oakdale High’s varsity football team came to an end at the 2012 California Interscholastic Federation Division II State Football Championship Bowl Game at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Saturday, where the size, speed and talents of Serra (Gardena) proved too great an obstacle, ending in a 42-15 defeat of the Mustangs.
“It was like the National Geographic show with the fast cat chasing the small animal,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said after receiving the runner-up DII trophy. “You can only get away for so long.”
Oakdale struggled to maintain early drives, surrendering a 21-0 deficit after a quarter and a 35-0 Serra lead at halftime before outscoring the Cavaliers 15-7 over the final two periods.
The game was played before nearly 2,500 fans, the majority representing the Oakdale community despite a six-hour trek to compare with a commute of less than six minutes from nearby Serra High.
The deafening sea of scarlet didn’t surprise everyone.
“I would have bet anybody any amount of money that we would outdraw them,” Merzon said. “There is no other town in California like Oakdale.
“I would rather lose in Oakdale than win anywhere else.”
Serra outgained Oakdale 520-339 in total yardage and used explosive plays to span lengthy chunks of yardage as Mustang defenders scrambled to adjust their angles of pursuit against the blur that was the Serra offense.
Serra’s Marques Rogers (5 carries, 96 yards) ran for three first quarter touchdowns and watched dual threat quarterback Jalen Greene (246 total yards) throw a pair of second quarter touchdown passes to NCAA bound track and football star Adoree Jackson (160 total yards).
Jackson was dazzling in the first half, but he wasn’t done yet. He elected to run out a punt formation on fourth and 31 at his own 22-yard line in the third quarter, dodging tacklers before reaching the sideline and sprinting 78 yards to pay dirt.
Oakdale would rally to score on a four-yard scamper by Nikk Ryan, adding a one-yard score by Marcus Northcutt in the fourth quarter.
Ryan had 20 carries for 71 yards against the boisterous Serra defense. Northcutt would gash the Serra defense with 28 carries for 158 yards. His frequent cuts and bolts up field had Serra reeling for most of the second half.
“I’m glad I was able to finish like that,” Northcutt said. “It was my last game and I just tried to do as much as I could.”
Spencer Thomas completed six of 13 passes and was intercepted twice by Serra linebacker Blake Walls along the sideline. Oakdale attempted its first field goal of the season when Sean Harrity lined up for a 31-yard attempt in the second quarter, but the kick was wide left.
Oakdale managed to move the ball with a consistent run game, but penalties stalled early drives and failed to keep the ball away from Serra’s potent attack. Coach Merzon was given the option of a running clock at halftime, but wasn’t about to end the state bowl game without a fight.
“I wanted to punch them in the mouth,” Merzon said when asked how he responded to the running clock option. “We declined … we respectfully declined.
“Our goal in that second half — it was not going to be a running clock tonight. I thought the second half was a fabulous statement for our team.”
Serra entered the game as a heavy favorite after a sterling season that saw the Cavaliers top some of the best teams in the state, including Division I state bowl runner-up Long Beach Poly (fell 21-20 to Granite Bay at Carson).
“We knew what we were getting into, but you are kind of hoping that maybe they make mistakes and maybe turn the ball over,” Merzon said. “They didn’t make any mistakes and when we made mistakes they capitalized on it.”
The loss ends a 14-2 season for an Oakdale team that captured a section title, the first ever NorCal Regional championship and entry in the school’s first ever State Bowl game. Their exploits will live on as lofty aspirations for all future players to reach.
“Everybody measures football players in height and weight and 40 times,” Merzon said. “They don’t talk about toughness and heart and passion and how much our kids love each other; love our fans and how much our fans love them.
“That’s why we are successful in Oakdale. We are not very big, we run okay, we are who we are. We can’t change who we are and we wouldn’t want to change who we are.”
The 2012 season marks the final football appearance of Oakdale defensive coordinator Hondo Arpoika, who will also coach his last season with the varsity baseball team next spring.
Coach Arpoika has two sons on his star-studded defensive line (Hondo and Miko) who will graduate with the Class of 2013.
“Doing two sports for so many years takes away from a lot of family time,” coach Arpoika said. “I love doing it, but it just takes a toll on a person.
“I know I am going to miss it a ton and lot of great things came out of it, but I just have got to do it before it’s too late.”
It will be hard to imagine Oakdale football without coach Arpoika’s clever direction of the Mustang defense or the support of his wife and unofficial Facebook photographer, Christy Arpoika.
“(Christy) has bought into this and been extremely supportive,” coach Arpoika said. “If you don’t have that support it’s like pulling different ends of a rope. …Without her support or her buying into what we do, I would not have been able to do what I have done and keep the family solid.”
The Mustangs also graduate 21 players from their current roster. Seventeen of them are starters. The team pulled up 13 total underclassmen by the postseason.
“We always set unbelievably lofty goals,” Merzon said. “We are young but you saw some young kids play tonight and we are going to be better than everybody wants to think we are going to be.
“We are going to have big goals and we are going to be back. The Mustangs aren’t going anywhere.”