OAKDALE — Eric Reis walked toward the scoreboard and gave it a quick glance for one last reminder of what had just transpired at The Corral.
Oakdale 45, Manteca 14.
“I didn’t see that coming,” the Manteca head coach said after Friday’s Valley Oak League showdown of traditional rivals.
Even with two of his top defensive players out with injuries, Reis expected a more competitive outcome. The Mustangs (6-0 VOL, 9-0 overall), who set themselves up for next week’s colossal clash of unbeaten teams at Central Catholic, took advantage of Manteca’s early missed opportunities four turnovers in the first three quarters.
“I’m really impressed with our kids, to be honest with you,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “That’s a really good football team that we just beat. We made a few mistakes early too, but not as many of them and ours were minor. You just can’t turn the football over.”
The Buffaloes (4-2, 6-2) had a chance to answer Oakdale’s first touchdown in the first quarter, but Gino Campiotti’s pass to a wide-open Damon Lynch in the end zone was dropped. The drive stalled out on the Oakdale 17.
Then on Manteca’s final play of the opening period, Dakarai Charles (7 of 8, 73 yards) — who split time with Campiotti (4-of-12, 83 yards, touchdown, interception) behind center while also seeing action at tail back — appeared to be on his way to a 39-yard touchdown scamper but had the ball stripped loose by Oakdale defensive back Lane Trapp. The ball bounced into the end zone and back to the 1-yard line where it was recovered by Louis Marsella.
“You have to be at your best against a team like Oakdale,” Reis said. “When you make those kinds of mistakes it starts steamrolling from there. We’ve been so good all year at protecting the rock and then tonight, just to hand it over and over and over was a heartbreaker.”
Oakdale delivered the first of several backbreakers soon after. Brad Aquino caught a short pass and turned upfield for a 99-yard touchdown play that was negated by an illegal block. Two plays later, the first of the second quarter, Austin Burke sprinted 84 yards to paydirt for a 14-0 Oakdale lead.
“I told our kids at halftime that might have been the best drive I’ve been a part of for a long, long time,” Merzon said. “So many teams would have put their heads down and blinked and thought, ‘You know what? We missed an opportunity.’
“Our kids didn’t. After getting a 99 ½-yard touchdown called back … our kids didn’t hang their head and didn’t pout. We went ahead and finished that drive.”
They later finished the Buffaloes at the end of the half, scoring 17 points in 2 minutes, 27 seconds — and 10 in the final 17 seconds — starting with Aquino’s 3-yard run. Trapp intercepted Campiotti on the next drive to set up Aquino’s third touchdown of the half, this one from 2 yards out.
Intent on running out the clock, Buffaloes running back Kameron Beamon (seven rushes, 83 yards) fumbled the ball which was recovered by standout defensive end Cullen Bearden, who also had three sacks for the night, on the 30 with 9 seconds to go. Quarterback Adam Olsen (4-of-6, 51 yards; three rushes, 43 yards) hit Burke up the middle for a 19-yard gain that set up Trapp’s 28-yard field goal as time expired.
Oakdale led comfortably 31-7 at halftime.
“They do a good job of getting on you … and we couldn’t adjust fast enough,” Reis said.
Ronaldo Tijero’s 60-yard catch-and-run kept Manteca in striking distance in the second quarter. He finished with 122 yards on six catches. Charles (16 rushes, 59 yards) later scored on a 21-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter.
The night, however, belonged to Oakdale’s playmakers on both sides of scrimmage. Aquino finished with 130 yards and three touchdowns, while Burke added 150 and three scores of his own. The Mustangs have continued to excel despite the season-ending knee injury of Darus Nelson, their exciting running back who was instrumental in Oakdale’s charge to the 2014 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title.
“We knew that when we lost Darus that one guy doesn’t replace Darus,” Merzon said. “It’s going to have to be a full-blown group effort and we were going to have to do it with our system. I don’t know who scored touchdowns tonight and I really don’t care. That’s not how we go into a game.”
Manteca was minus defensive end Darrion Kitson (knee) and linebacker James Thomas (shoulder, neck), who were hurt in the team’s win over Lathrop last week. They hope to return in time for their Week 10 matchup with city foe East Union.
“We showed flashes tonight,” Reis said. “There are some stuff we can build on and we’ll go from there.”
As for Oakdale, Merzon didn’t want his players to think ahead to their winner-take-all tussle with Central Catholic just yet.
“Nights like tonight don’t come around very often,” Merzon said. “Beating a team like Manteca is unbelievably difficult to do, so I want them to enjoy tonight. Everybody is going to want to talk about the Raiders and I get it — they’re unbelievable. But you know what? So are we, and I want them to enjoy tonight.
“I told them, tomorrow morning don’t wake up and think about the Raiders, think about what we just accomplished tonight. We’re 9-0. When noontime rolls around, then maybe you can let it creep into the back of your mind.”