OAKDALE — Oakdale is well known as a smash-mouth, power-running program.
But it was the Mustangs’ passing game — chiefly the Marc Dickson-to-Hunter Falconi connection — that helped the reigning CIF Division III-A state champions hand Valley Oak League competitive rival Manteca a 36-15 loss Friday night at The Corral.
While Dickson was able to establish a rhythm with his favorite target early in the game — connecting with Falconi on five attempts that never managed to eclipse the 15-yard total — the over-the-top pass never seemed to quite synch up for the senior slinger.
With 9:01 left to play in the game and the Mustangs holding a 22-8 lead over a Manteca team that was plagued by turnovers, Dickson finally found his man in stride on a 47-yard strike that solidified the Oakdale victory and the pursuit to keep their VOL record unblemished.
“They had missed on that earlier in the game but then they finally connected,” Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon said of the game-sealing touchdown. “I thought that the dive that Marc (Dickson) in the third quarter to go up by two scores was huge as well and it gave us some momentum that we were able to carry.
“This might not have the between-the-tackles game than people would expect, but it was a super physical, violent football game, and I’m proud of our guys for playing hard the way that they did.”
The Buffaloes struck first when on their second possession when Gino Campiotti found Jacob De Jesus on a 21-yard strike and followed it with a conversion run that gave the Manteca an 8-0 lead that they would hold for the rest of the quarter.
And while Campiotti found success even when he was flushed from the pocket, a myriad of dropped passes and turnovers — an interception, a fumble after the reception and a ball that was stripped from a receiver as he tried to shake free — halted the Buffaloes’ momentum and gave Oakdale opportunities that they freely took advantage of.
Those kinds of mistakes, Campiotti said, are hard to recover from against a team known for its precision.
“The turnovers are absolutely unacceptable, and I made some mistakes and some balls that I shouldn’t have thrown tonight,” said Campiotti, who caught a break on what would have been his second interception when an Oakdale personal foul nullified the play. “It’s a momentum shift when something like that happens, and when you make a few mistakes, it just adds up against a team like Oakdale.
“We try and learn from every single game and make the most out of every situation and that’s what we’re going to have to do with this one. We’ll regroup, become closer and come back ready to play as a family – that’s what they do out here and they’re very good at it.”
Campiotti finished the game 19-of-34 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with eight carries for 43 yards.
While Oakdale had success throwing the ball — Dickson finished 9-of-19 passing for 162 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions — it was workhorse back Cameron Cherry that comprised the bulk of the Mustang offense. Cherry rushed the ball 23 times for 161 yards and a touchdown, while backfield partner Josh Jacobsen had just as many carries for 103 yards and a score.
Falconi finished with seven receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
Even though the Manteca offense might not have been what most people would have expected from a team that has relied on between-the-tackle runs for its decade-plus run of success, adapting to what tools are available has become the name of the game.
“We just adapted to what we’ve got and when you’re facing a team that has D-1 caliber defensive linemen, you’re not going to be very successful if you’re running right at them the entire game,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said, referring to Fresno State commit Matt Kjeldgaard and Nico Sarale. “Even Trent said that this game had a weird feel to it, and it was like we were trying to feel one another out. We both realize that if we go into the D-III (postseason) bracket together that there’s a good chance we’re going to see one another again.
“Right now, we’ve just to focus and get back to correcting some of the mistakes that we made and come out better on the other side. It’s bizarre that we’ve played so many big games so early in the year, but now we have to work on fine-tuning some things on offense and coming up on the defensive side of the ball to put it all together.”