Daniel Linder’s face was wrought with disappointment, but the Oakdale High senior’s voice had an unmistakable semblance of pride on Saturday as he summarized the 14-game journey he and 50 football teammates shared this season. Oakdale snared Valley Oak League co-champion status and then dispatched all comers on the way to the D3 final, closing the year at 10-4 overall.
“This team has persevered all year long,” Linder said. “We had ups and downs early on, but we kept fighting and getting better every week.
“It’s just a heartbreaker to lose tonight.”
Opponent Del Oro landed just one offensive score — an ultra-deceptive pass from goal line formation — but big plays on defense and special teams allowed two more touchdowns and a 21-0 Golden Eagle win in a rainy Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game at Sacramento State on Dec. 4.
“Del Oro is dynamite, and everything they were billed to be,” Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon said. “We knew coming in that we were going to have to be perfect and more.
“These things are hard to win, and when you get to this stage you will always have to beat a great team, and Del Oro is a great football team.”
Oakdale was unable to convert fourth downs in Golden Eagle territory, and saw the game’s only field goal attempt sail wide-left after a 45-yard try from Mustang Justin Martin.
Del Oro defenders clogged the middle on Marcus Hernandez runs and gang-tackled Linder and Marcus Northcutt on each sprint to the outside.
Sophomore quarterback Spencer Thomas was spectacular for the second straight week, but his 75-yard rushing performance and 36-yard passing stanza represented most of Oakdale’s 221 yards from scrimmage.
“I wanted to carry the seniors to a section title in their last year but it just didn’t work out,” Thomas said. “We played pretty good tonight and we know this team had a great year.”
Del Oro snared the game’s only first half score after repeated third and short runs in goal-line formation set up a brilliant tight end pass to a wide open Shoichi Martinson on third and two from Del Oro’s 28-yard line.
The Golden Eagles scored again to open the second half after Russell Smith corralled a short kickoff and broke through a frenzy of players for a 70-yard kick return.
The final last score of the soggy night came after an Oakdale screen pass deflected into the hands of Del Oro’s Kai Vonalvensleben for a 47-yard interception return with 4:16 to play.
The play effectively put a championship for Oakdale this season out of reach, but did nothing to taint a tremendous season for Thomas and the 26 Mustang seniors who rallied behind him.
“Our underclassmen truly understand that they are going to miss our seniors,” Merzon said. “They’ve done some tremendous things. I’m just so proud of this group, so proud of our seniors.”