Oakdale High’s usually relentless Wing-T ground game took flight Friday night, Sept. 20, exploiting East Union’s all-out-focus on stopping the running attack and turning tight end Peyton Bradford into a receiving hero.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior caught a career-high three touchdowns, including a 70-yard catch-and-run late in the first half, to send the Mustangs on their way to a 42-14 victory over East Union to open Valley Oak League play. Bradford also caught TD passes of 25 and 20 yards from sophomore quarterback Jackson Holt, and Bradford’s final score gave Oakdale a 35-7 lead late in the third quarter.
There was a celebration afterward, as well, with Oakdale Coach Trent Merzon celebrating his 200th career victory on the same field where the Oakdale High alum once threw touchdowns for the Mustangs as a quarterback. Most of those runs were fueled by a powerful running game, but this time Merzon rode a passing game to victory.
“East Union was putting eight men in the box, throwing everything it had into stopping the run,” said Bradford, who typically is a key blocker opening holes for running backs Zeke Saffar, Rylan Kerr, Leo Ayala, Donovan Walker and others. “That left the middle of the field open for us, and Jackson did a great job getting the ball to me. What a night. Never had one like this before!”
It didn’t start as a career night, however, as Bradford dropped a pass in the end zone early in the first half.
“Could have had four touchdowns, can you believe that? You make a mistake like that, dropping a pass, and you’ve got to forget about it and move on,” said Bradford, whose 25-yard TD reception gave Oakdale the lead for good at 14-7 midway through the second quarter. “I knew I’d get another chance, because that play was going to be open because the way they were playing defense.”
East Union was hoping to get into halftime with just a 14-7 deficit, and was confident it would do just that when Oakdale began a possession at its 28-yard line late in the first half. On the second play, though, Bradford was left uncovered on a deep route down the middle – Holt hit his tight end in stride and Bradford rumbled the remaining 50 yards for the 21-7 lead.
After a 21-point second quarter, Oakdale added another 14 in the third when Saffar scored on a 12-yard and Bradford caught a 20-yard to make it 35-7. When Donovan Walker burst up the middle for a 47-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter, that pushed the score to 42-7 and the game finished with a running clock.
East Union had struck first on Eric Morales’ 26-yard TD pass to Ryland Toves, before Oakdale quickly tied the game at 7-7 on Rylan Kerr’s 1-yard TD run and the first of Dom McDonald’s six consecutive PAT kicks. Kerr had ripped off a 50-yard run to set up his short TD plunge.
Later in the first half, the Mustangs’ Nico Villegas and McDonald intercepted passes to set up Oakdale touchdowns. Villegas’ interception and 27-yard return set up Bradford’s first touchdown, then McDonald set up Bradford’s 70-yard TD with a sliding interception along the sideline.
The Lancers were trailing 14-7 and threatening to tie the game with 2:20 to go in the first half, when Morales tried to hit a receiver running a sideline route. Instead, McDonald grabbed the pass moments before it hit the turf and Oakdale got the ball at its own 28-yard line.
After Saffar picked up 2 yards, Holt dropped back and found Bradford down the middle for the touchdown to break the game open. It was third consecutive possession that led to an Oakdale touchdown, and the Mustangs scored the first time they got the ball in the second half.
The victory pushed Oakdale’s record to 3-2 overall, 1-0 in league, with a road trip to Weston Ranch this Friday, Sept. 27 before returning to The Corral to face rival Manteca on Friday, Oct. 4. Manteca dropped its league opener 27-26 to Central Catholic, and the Mustangs won’t face Central until the final week of the regular season when they travel to the parochial power.
“We played a tough preseason schedule to get us ready for the Valley Oak League,” said Holt, whose Mustangs faced a couple of powerful Bay Area programs in Palma of Salinas and state-ranked Liberty of Brentwood. “Being able to throw the ball, having a big target like Peyton downfield, that’s going to make it more difficult for defenses to stack the line against our run game.”
On Thursday, it was a 41-7 win for the freshmen, on the road against East Union in Manteca. The JV team opened up Friday night action with a win of their own, getting past the Lancers, 29-22.