SANTA CLARA – Luis Reyes saw a loose ball bouncing around and knew that he had to make a play.
Manteca had already fumbled on its opening drive and Oakdale had wasted no time in capitalizing – shaking out whatever butterflies might have existed when the squad walked into the billion-dollar Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara by bowling running back Frankie Trent over the goal line.
So Reyes leaned forward, scooped up the ball, and sprang forward 62-yards – the Manteca contingent of the estimated 6,000 in attendance roaring to life as he dashed away from defenders and towards a knotted score.
The play itself was electric and a perfect example of the “find a way” style that has served Manteca well over the years.
But it wouldn’t be enough.
Trent’s bruising run attack – the bulk of the Oakdale offense – never slowed, and despite a tied score at halftime, the ability of the Mustangs to move the football in the second half proved to be the difference in dealing Manteca a 42-21 defeat.
“They’re a good football team and they have a veteran coaching staff and when you look around and you see this kind of a setting for a VOL football game, it says something. It’s just unfortunate that one team was going to have to leave here disappointed,” Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon said. “I think that the difference for us was our 6:15 a.m. morning workouts which instills toughness and character and grit. I can tell you that at the end of this game our kids weren’t fresh, but we were fresher than they were and had more in the tank and that’s what we needed in order to get this done.”
The Mustangs recovered a Hector Soto fumble on Manteca’s opening drive and turned it into the game’s first score. The two teams would trade touchdowns throughout the remainder of the first half, but the manner in which each team accomplished the task – Oakdale by grinding away with Trent and Manteca by breaking big, late-unfolding plays – couldn’t have been more different.
When Manteca’s Greg Jones took an 11-yard pass from Dakarai Charles with 14 ticks of the clock left in the first half to knot the score – taking a massive hit in the process – it would be the last time they would see the end zone for the game.
It was all Frankie Trent during the second half.
The bruiser, who Manteca head coach Eric Reis said he expected to get the bulk of the workload in the contest, finished the game with 223 yards on 33 carries and scored each of Oakdale’s six touchdowns.
He ran straight.
And he ran hard.
His ground success helped the Mustangs rack up 20 first downs as he was responsible for the lion’s share of the team’s 334 rushing yards. They finished with 409 total yards of offense – a stark contrast to the 229 of Manteca.
“They beat us my freshman year and my sophomore year and my junior year, so there was a little something extra coming into this game and it feels great knowing that we’re walking out of Levi’s Stadium today with a win in the final chapter,” said Trent, who at one point in the fourth quarter had more carries in the second half than Manteca had offensive plays.
“We worked hard to get here and we were nervous when we first stepped out onto the field. There’s some excitement there when you’re going to play in a venue like this.
“But our offensive line did their job tonight and we were able to run the football. It was an Oakdale team effort.”
The loss – Manteca’s second of the season – could end up taking the Buffaloes out of VOL championship contention.
Saturday’s heat, which pushed the 90-degree mark and presented some conditions not typically seen in October, was something that Reis said could have played a factor in his team not getting the momentum the coaches had hoped for in the second half.
“I think that they were worn out a little bit there because it’s not quite the same as what you find when you’re playing all night games,” he said. “But they came at us with what they had and it was up to us to stop them and we didn’t do that. It was simple. We have guys that make some things happen, but we have to be able to stop them.”
For Reyes – who also caught a 67-yard touchdown pass during the crucial lead up to the halftime break – the game was bittersweet. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he said, was important, but walking away with a loss to Oakdale was deflating.
“I was running a short route and I saw it open up,” Reyes said of the touchdown catch from Charles. “With a quarterback like the one that we have you have more flexibility but you’ve got to get open and see where things are developing and then make the play.
“On that fumble I just saw the ball and knew that I had to pick it up and go with it. At first I didn’t believe that I had a play like that in this kind of a setting, until I turned around and saw the replay on the scoreboard.”