Coming off their thrilling win over Escalon a week ago, the Oakdale High School varsity football team took to the road and followed up with another nailbiter. Oakdale traveled to Manteca to take on Sierra on Friday night, March 26 and came away with a 21-20 victory.
Things did not start well for the visitors as they muffed a punt deep in their own territory with 10:07 left to play in the first quarter. Sierra took advantage of the turnover and went up 7-0 less than a minute later. Zeke Saffar evened things up with a seven-yard rushing touchdown with 4:47 remaining in the first quarter. Saffar finished the night with 27 carries for 207 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sierra would take a 14-7 lead with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
Late in the first half, Saffar crossed the goal line for the second time as he rushed in from a yard out to even the score with 4:12 remaining. Three minutes later the Timberwolves scored on a long reception from 41 yards out to go up 20-14. Lining up for the point after touchdown, the Mustangs leaped offsides and Sierra decided to go for a two-point conversion. The attempt was thwarted and the Timberwolves’ lead remained at six.
“I would have done the same thing;” head coach Trent Merzon said of the decision. “In fact; I have done that many times, including in the postseason against this school. When you’re that close why not?”
On a fourth-and-five from the Sierra 40, Saffar rushed for a 16-yard gain for a first down with 11 seconds remaining in the half. With three seconds left the Timberwolves were called for a defensive pass interference penalty that set up the Mustangs at the six-yard line. Quarterback Jackson Holt connected with Dion Suarez for a touchdown as time expired at the half to take a 21-20 halftime lead.
Holt finished 12-of -2 for 149 yards and a touchdown. His top receiver of the night was Jack Kjeldgaard who caught five passes for 82 yards.
Although the scoreboard did not change in the second half, both teams had their share of opportunities. On the opening drive of the half Oakdale was faced with a fourth-and-one from the Sierra 31 yard line. Holt picked up the first down on a keeper with seven minutes left in the quarter. Later that drive it was fourth-and-two but the Mustangs could not convert. With 3:46 remining in the third quarter Sierra lined up for a long 41-yard field goal but the attempt was wide right. In the fourth quarter Oakdale found themselves in the red zone and on fourth-and-goal from the six; Holt’s pass attempt was deflected in the end zone with 11:08 remaining in the game.
Oakdale’s defense stepped up throughout the night including a fumble recovery by Omar Baez, sacks by Jake Kettering and the defensive line made key stops when needed.
“I did not like the way we started the game, but loved the way we finished the game. Sierra is no joke; they are the defending Section champions and the Valley Oak League is no joke either,” said Merzon. “Our defense played very well in the second half. When you play in the VOL it’s physical, it’s tough and it’s violent. It’s our style of football and in the second half that’s how we played, our style of football.”
Thursday night, April 1 the Mustangs travel back to Manteca to take on East Union. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.