No true tradition.
No real chance.
And no one cared enough to cry at Weston Ranch’s Homecoming; both sides knew the Cougars had it coming.
Oakdale, doors open since 1892, hardly needed a second half against Weston Ranch, entering halftime up 34-6 and piling on another 28 points in the last two quarters anyway with several starters on layaway.
Weston Ranch is another in a string of Valley Oak League expansion high schools spawned in the Highway 99-205-5 corridor of latch-key communities like Lathrop and towns Tracy and Manteca which, with the construction-boom at the turn of the century and the rise of affordable family housing, suddenly didn’t have enough high schools. Tracy opened West, a former VOL member in 1995, Kimball in 2009 and Millennium is set to open next year; Manteca opened Sierra in 1994 and Lathrop began in 2008.
Located off the French Camp exit, the trees at Weston Ranch’s stadium aren’t tall enough for shade, the silver bleachers haven’t had time to weather and on the field the Cougars seemed somewhere between a sophomore and varsity in a VOL traditionally dominated by Oakdale, Manteca, and Sonora, all of whom opened before Prohibition.
Tradition? Well, tradition takes time.
Anyone ever seen a Cougar running around when they stopped for gas in Lathrop? No and nevertheless, on Homecoming night in “Cougar Country,” Weston Ranch got ran. Oakdale was bigger, better, faster, stronger than their decade-young VOL counterparts; outrunning, outhitting and outplaying the Cougars in a 62-12 rout to improve to 3-2 overall, 2-0 in VOL play.
The Mustangs, rolling on three straight wins after starting the season with consecutive nail-biting losses, looked a whole lot faster on offense with Darus Nelson and quarterback Adam Olsen back in the lineup from injury. Junior running backs Dominic Orvis, Brock Whiting and Max Stevens each had 80 plus yards and a touchdown run, while sophomore offensive standouts Nelson and Olsen, each in their first extended taste of varsity action coming off injuries, scored two touchdowns apiece for the Mustangs.
Combinations of Olsen and Nelson running to the outside, Whiting and senior Tyler Williams rushing up the middle, mixed in with Stevens and Orvis wore out the Cougars and the defense finished them off.
“We’re shocking teams with our physicality on both sides of the ball,” Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon said. “Especially the way our running backs attack defenders on blocking assignments. Coach Meyer is doing a great job with the defense, we had only one bad defensive series against Weston Ranch.”
The defense, returning just one starter in 2013, continued to tee off on the competition. In the second and third quarters, Cougar players were getting up slower and slower from tackles and were less eager to fight for extra yardage.
“Last year’s defense was three years in the making,” Merzon said. “But this year’s team is playing just as physical and we’re wearing out teams that run a lot of two-way players. Coach Meyer did a great job preparing the defense for the Cougars’ spread offense.”
And it could have been worse for the Cougars. Senior Bailey Dryden had a touchdown reception called back and two other Mustangs had scores returned for penalties. On special teams, it was constant collisions and cracked shoulder pads and the defense forced turnovers - one of which was returned for a touchdown by senior Kyle Osborne.
Two Weston Ranch players had to be removed from the game momentarily, but the hit of the night belonged to Cougar junior quarterback Khalil Browder who, after being harassed for nearly three quarters by Mustang defenders, had a five-yard running start on a quarterback keeper when he spotted junior Christian Johnson, lowered his head and took a shot at tradition, dump-trucking the Oakdale defender to his back before rumbling over him for another three yards.
But that was about it.
Several Mustang starters were pulled to get some rest and so immediately after the game they could focus on Manteca. The Mustangs head into Friday’s VOL Game of the Year at The Corral with four capable running backs, three straight wins and two quarterbacks who have started and won games for a Mustang team relying heavily on underclassmen.
“I think we’re a lot better than Manteca wanted us to be at this point in the year,” Merzon said. “Manteca’s program has been waiting for this year’s team to become seniors for a couple years and they think that they’re going to be pretty special…our kids are excited about this opportunity.”
The senior-laden Buffaloes are led by senior quarterback Joe Menzel and standout 300 pound lineman Issac McClain, a 6-2, all-VOL pick in 2012 and Billy Sharmoug, 6-0, 300 pound lineman whose brothers played for the 2005 Section Champs. Alex “Nitro” Laurel, the talented but academically troubled running back who doubles up at defensive back will also draw interest from the Mustang defense. The Buffaloes, 4-1, big, physical, and fast, are coming off a 56-7 romp over 0-5 Lathrop and also have blowouts of Central Valley, Los Banos and Sonora.
“The whole thing is a process,” Merzon said. “The only way to grow is through struggle. From pre-season, learning to trust each other over the summer and now the great opportunity awaiting our kids.”
The process, a term expounded upon in a book by Nick Saban, football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, BCS Champions two of the last three years, stresses success as a process by where championships are the end results of the process of work required to get there.
After the Weston Ranch quarterback had the hit of the night on one of their teammates, the Mustangs ran off three straight touchdowns.
Final score 62-12 Oakdale.
Roll Tide Roll.
Manteca vs. Oakdale Friday night at The Corral.