For Manteca High, there were baby steps in the right direction.
For the visiting Oakdale Mustangs it was their closest contest since a two-touchdown win to open the season.
Neither squad backed down, but Oakdale stood tallest, capitalizing each time it needed to for a 28-7 victory that secures a piece of its sixth-consecutive Valley Oak League title.
Manteca fought and clawed its way to a scoreless first quarter, but saw its chances get slimmer when the Mustangs intercepted a Joe Menzel pass and returned it to the red zone and scored four plays later. Four minutes later Oakdale would be back in the end zone, heading to the halftime locker room with a 14-0 lead.
Manteca’s physical play and effort on the defensive end definitely left them in a position to shock the Mustangs, but untimely mistakes on the offensive end provided a talented Oakdale squad with one too many opportunities.
“I liked our physicality on defense; you have not seen that from Manteca this year,” Buffaloes head coach Eric Reis said. “I thought we brought it on defense and we haven’t all year, so I was extremely happy with that part.
“We would have liked to move the ball better on offense, but you have to tip your hat to them too, they’re a good football team.”
Manteca (4-2, 5-4 overall) put itself in a good position midway through the third quarter, stopping a 9-play Oakdale drive on a 4-and-3 stop from the Manteca 22. The Buffaloes would cut Oakdale’s lead in half with a 28-yard Alex Laurel touchdown run.
Only Oakdale would answer, going 80-yards on 10 plays and using a 3-yard score from Nikk Ryan to push the deficit back to two touchdowns. The Buffaloes would see their next two possessions stalled outside the redzone.
The victory ushered Oakdale head coach Trent Merzon into elite company, becoming the all-time winningest head coach in Oakdale history with the VOL road win.
“I thought our kids did a heck of a job; I thought they played tough,” Merzon said. “Manteca was super; they were big, they were physical and if you add it up, they have four losses to four teams with a combined total of four losses. Stagg, Los Banos, Sierra and us all have one loss, so they’re better than people what people want to say.
“They did a good job tonight and it was a good football game.”
The Buffaloes will have to find a way to close out the season with an inspired performance against the East Union Lancers in the VOL finale. The Lancers have only racked up a single win all season, but records become irrelevant when the two programs meet.
“It’s sad when the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how the game was,” Manteca starting quarterback Ryan Fox said. “We went toe-to-toe with them and a lot of teams have had running clocks put on them by Oakdale. It’s a heartbreaker to lose to them, but they’re a good team that we plan on seeing again in playoffs.
“Our playoff season starts now, if we don’t win against East Union we’re out.”