Oakdale needed two fourth-down touchdown passes and a monster night from running back Cameron Cherry to escape Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Stadium with a 28-25 victory Friday.
The reigning CIF State Division IV-A champion Timberwolves (0-1, 3-1 overall) had a nine-game winning streak snapped and played a perennial power — one they’ve only beaten twice — tough on opening night of Valley Oak League play.
“We proved we’re 0-1 in league,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in moral victories. We need to come out and play better next week.”
For Oakdale (1-0, 3-1), coming off an eye-opening road win against North Coast Section contender Campolindo, it was the coming-out-party for Cherry, a converted receiver who put all of his skills on display. He accounted for all four of the Mustangs’ touchdowns, rushing for 165 yards on 20 carries and adding two receptions for 34 yards.
Cherry provided his team the boost it needed after workhorse Will Semone (seven carries, 25 yards) went down with an ankle injury on Oakdale’s second play from scrimmage. Semone torched Campolindo for more than 200 yards rushing in the 28-21 win.
“For a guy who has only played tailback now for a couple of weeks in his life he has a chance to be very good,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “He’s got some stuff and you saw it tonight.”
Cherry showed off his breakaway ability on each touchdown, going untouched on 17- and 34-yard runs and making over-the-shoulder catches for his other two scores.
Oakdale took a 14-10 lead into halftime thanks to 20-yard toss from Marc Dickson (4 of 8, 80 yards) to Cherry on fourth-and-7 with 1:02 remaining. The Mustangs later used the same misdirection play when faced with a fourth-and-3 situation, only this time Dickson hit Cherry from 14 yards out to put the game away with 2:25 left in the game.
“There were some mental mistakes out there,” Harbison said. “We knew what was coming, we just didn’t stop it.”
Among those mental mistakes were two penalties that wiped away big plays for Sierra.
The first was Mark Vicente’s 8-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Jacob Peterson late in the first quarter, but it was negated by a pass interference infraction called on another receiver. Sierra settled for Marcos Castillo’s 24-yard field goal that gave the Timberwolves their final lead at 10-7.
Then, with under a minute left in the half, Peterson had a 42-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass nullified by a holding penalty. Instead of threatening to score from inside Oakdale’s 25, the Timberwolves ran out the clock from their side of the field.
Sierra, to its credit, battled until the very end. Vicente led an 11-play, 69-yard drive punctuated by his 3-yard pass to Jesse Babauta.
It was too little, too late.
The final touchdown came with 0:00.6 left on the clock, and Oakdale secured the win when Makai Harris fair caught the ensuing pooch kick.
“Our team doesn’t quit,” Castillo said. “Oakdale is a good team but we knew we could play with them. We believed in ourselves. We’re fighters. We might get tired but we’ll keep fighting. That’s where our pride comes in.”
Castillo (26 yards rushing, 65 receiving) scored most of Sierra’s points, plowing into the end zone twice on short-yardage touchdowns while going 2 for 2 on point-after kicks and adding on two more with a conversion run.
Vicente finished 26 of 39 for 307 yards with an interception, and Peterson had a career-high 10 receptions for 124 yards. Sierra outgained Oakdale, 344-308.
“I think we played a lot tougher than anybody thought we could,” Harbison said. “The kids came out and played football tonight, but we have to get better.”
Sierra hosts intra-city rival East Union, now 4-0, next week.