OAKDALE—One side will call it a stampede. The other will label it a collapse. It depended on which side of the Corral one sat.
What’s indisputable is that the Oakdale High Mustangs enjoyed the view.
They answered a 28-21 halftime deficit Friday night with football’s version of a tsunami: Six intercepted passes and one blocked punt for a touchdown. That bizarre sequence added up to a 56-35 victory over Merced, good for a trip next week to top-seeded Grant in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals.
“We’ve come so far from the beginning,” said Oakdale’s relentless sophomore Wes Burford, who accounted for three touchdowns, six extra points, a two-point conversion and 146 rushing yards on 28 carries. The game mirrored his tireless season-long campaign. He topped the 1,700-yard mark in rushing.
“We feel we can do something in the playoff run,” he added.
Oakdale (8-3) already has. The Mustangs, third-place finishers in the Valley Oak League, have shown marked improvement from the opening month. That said, there was no hint during the first half that the game would become a rout in one quarter.
But it did, in the form of 28 points and – in football time-- 22 dizzying points in 2:32 bridging the third and fourth quarters. The rally started with Gabe McDonald’s 47-yard touchdown dash early in the third period. It peaked with the Bears pitching it almost nonstop to the alert Oakdale secondary.
“Anytime you put a TO (turnover) in front of anything, things are not good,” Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. “In a game like this, a turnover is going to be the death knell. That is pretty much what happened to us tonight.”
Within all the sudden change, two turnovers came back to back and stood above the rest. Merced (8-4) the Central California Conference champion, drove toward a possible go-ahead touchdown when Tommy Chance – the Oakdale quarterback – intercepted in the end zone and returned to midfield.
Minutes later, Merced punter Anthony Nixon pulled down a high snap with one arm but still had his attempted punt smothered. Jackson Gilton retrieved and stepped 7 yards into the end zone. Suddenly, it was 42-28, and the momentum belonged to Oakdale for good.
The Merced loss marked the third time since 2016 that its season ended at Oakdale. Chase Smith totaled 115 rushing yards and a touchdown for the Bears.
The offenses dominated the first half. Merced quarterback Quintell Dupree tossed touchdown passes to Jeremy Garcia and Julian Higareda, while Oakdale answered with its nonstop Wing-T attack that purred for 435 rushing yards.
A 60-yard pick-6 by Anthony Mendoza pushed Merced in front at the break.
“We said at halftime we would continue with the game plan,” Martin said. “We just grinded.”
Besides Burford, McDonald raced for 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Joseph Delte carried for 105 yards plus a TD reception. Martin, who succeeded the successful long run of Trent Merzon as coach, called out juniors such as Delte, linebacker Tyler Stroup, Malachi Modesto and others -- including several seniors – for their progress.
“The growth was made especially on defense,” Martin said. “It was a long process to get where we are tonight.”
Oakdale’s reward is a date with a powerhouse. Grant (9-2) enhanced its image with an 82-7 wipeout of Linden.
But strange things can happen—as the Merced-Oakdale third quarter illustrated.
M—Jeremy Garcia 38 pass from Quintell Dupree (Logan Harshkick)
O—Joseph Delte 35 pass from Tommy Chance (Wes Burford kick)
O—Burford 3 run (Burford kick)
M—Chase Smith 7 run (Harsh kick)
O—Burford 2 run (Burford kick)
M—Julian Higareda 14 pass from Dupree (Harsh kick)
M—Anthony Mendoza 60 interception return (Harsh kick)
O—Gabe McDonald 47 run (Burford kick)
O—McDonald 2 run (pass failed)
O—Jackson Gilton 7 blocked punt return (Burford run)
O—Delte 14 run (Burford kick)
O—Burford 17 run (Burford kick)
M—Antonio Aaron 11 pass from Abraham Bautista (Harsh kick)
Records: Merced 8-4, Oakdale 8-3