Football may be a game of yards, but it came down to inches for Oakdale High’s varsity football team during a highly anticipated Valley Oak League showdown with host Manteca on Friday.
The Mustangs were stopped hairs short of a touchdown on two goal-line stands, and watched a fourth quarter Buffalo score pave the way to a 35-28 defeat at Guss Schmiedt Field.
The win gives Manteca (6-0 VOL, 9-0 overall) an inside track to sole possession of the VOL title, while Oakdale looks to their regular season finale with Sonora on Friday and a guaranteed playoff appearance next week.
“It was a great football game, and I am proud of our kids for the way they played,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “It was a game where we didn’t finish early and it hurt us.”
Oakdale’s goal-line woes started with the final series of the first half.
The Mustangs (5-1, 6-3) took a long drive to the Manteca 2-yard line, where A.C. Brown’s outstretched, ball-clenched hand nearly eclipsed the goal line as time expired in the second quarter.
Leading 28-27, Brown popped a Manteca receiver to force a fumble (Tyler Hopkins recovery) with 9 minutes, 35 seconds to play in the game. Oakdale drove to the Manteca 2-yard line, but the Buffaloes mustered another fourth down stop and took the lead for good on a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Spencer Thomas, who found Vince Thompson on a beautiful fade to pay dirt in the first quarter and Daniel Linder on a eight-yard scoring strike in the second, was intercepted on fourth and 20 with under two minutes to play. He got the ball back for two more plays as time expired, but was unable to find an end-zone connection.
“These games are always so close one way or the other,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “It was a phenomenal game to be a part of.”
Oakdale rolled to 398 total yards, 310 from the likes of rushers Marcus Hernandez (27 rushes, 198 yards, two touchdowns) and Linder (13-55, one score). Brown pestered Manteca standouts for 11 tackles and a forced fumble.
The Mustangs take on perennial league stalwart, Sonora, in a 7 p.m. contest on Friday at The Corral in the much anticipated regular season finale. The Wildcats (4-2, 6-3) bounced back from a 28-7 loss to Sierra with last week’s 68-20 throttling of East Union.
Oakdale defensive back Braydon Stephens, who made several big open field tackles to limit Manteca yardage, looks forward to seeing the Mustangs back on the winning track.
“I think we just started a little timid against Manteca,” Stephens said. “We need to get off to a good start next week.”