For most of the game Friday night, East Union played well enough to defeat perennial powerhouse Oakdale.
A few dropped passes and some key penalties kept the Lancers from landing the knockout blow, as the Mustangs pulled away for a 35-26 win — their 25th straight against East Union — to open the Valley Oak League campaign at Dino Cunial Field.
“We didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “We just didn’t. I’m not looking for any moral victories — we are past that.
“Did we play classy tonight? We did. Did we play tough tonight? We did. Did we go toe-to-toe? We did. But we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays. We’re going to go back to work.”
With 7:48 left in the game, Raylen Carter pulled in a 29-yard touchdown pass in the middle of a crowd from Eric Morales (21 of 33 passing, 222 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions; 10 carries, 95 yards, touchdown) to draw the Lancers within, 28-26. The ensuing two-point conversion came up just short, and on the next play from scrimmage Zeke Saffar took off for Oakdale and did not stop for 80 yards and the game-clinching touchdown.
The Mustangs got the ball back and could have scored again, but kneeled out their possession inside the East Union 5-yard line.
“They made plays and we turned it over four times,” Mustangs coach Trent Merzon said. “But they turned it over twice at the end and that probably spun it.
“We finally managed to get some stops, but you have to tip your hat. Willie (Herrera) did a great job this week and his kids played their butts off.”
In addition to running the Lancers offense, Morales found time to sprint for a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and draw East Union within 21-20.
“In the beginning we played as a team,” Morales said. “We were all playing together and doing our jobs. And even though we weren’t winning it felt like we were winning.”
East Union held a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks to 28- and 35-yard field goals by Jorge Ramirez, but just like with Zaffar’s run seconds after the Lancers’ last touchdown, seconds after Ramirez’s second field goal Anthony Martinez scored on a 19-yard run for Oakdale.
JoJo Espinosa (four receptions, 44 yards) gave the Lancers a 13-7 lead midway through the third period with a 19-yard touchdown catch from Morales but Martinez’s 1-yard scoring run with 4:24 left in the half put the Mustangs ahead for good at 14-13.
Tealen Gaines made nine catches for 101 yards for East Union. Trinidad Diaz and Edwin Reyes each had a fumble recovery for the Lancers, and Gaines had an interception.
Oakdale 0 14 14 7 — 35
East Union 3 10 7 6 — 26
E – Jorge Ramirez 28 FG, 5:02
E — Ramirez 35 FG, 11:45.
O — Anthony Martinez 19 run (Dom McDonald kick), 11:12.
E — JoJo Espinosa 19 pass from Eric Morales (Ramirez kick), 5:58.
O — Martinez 1 run (McDonald kick), 4:24.
O — Leo Ayala 46 run (McDonald kick), 7:14.
E — Eric Morales 55 run (Ramirez kick), 6:10.
O — Max Moore 5 run (McDonald kick), 1:20.
E — Raylen Carter 29 pass from Morales (run fail), 7:48.
O — Zeke Saffar 80 run (McDonald kick), 7:31.