With just over four minutes to play and his team trailing by two touchdowns, Trent Merzon stood at the edge of the coaches box and gazed out onto the field. Suddenly, he turned on his heels and faced the players lined up behind him.
“Hey, we’re going to go for two the next time we score,” said Merzon, whose team had just got an 80-yard TD run from Cameron Cherry and a two-point conversion from quarterback Marc Dickson. “We’ve got to go for two again.”
That’s Merzon: Relentlessly positive with absolutely no reverse gear in his transmission.
Oakdale would, indeed, score again, but it couldn’t stop Folsom from doing the same as the Bulldogs recorded a 45-29 win Friday night at The Corral.
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The loss is the first suffered by the Mustangs on their home turf since Oct. 11, 2013, when eventual Sac-Joaquin Section champion Manteca recorded a 35-20 victory. It’s just Oakdale’s seventh loss in its last 88 home games.
“We really don’t let that scoreboard dictate who we are as a football program,” said Merzon. “We won big last week and didn’t play well. And I told them, ‘We might lose next week and play real well.’ The scoreboard doesn’t define how well we play. … So, as far as how we played tonight? We played a helluva lot better tonight than we did last week.”
After handling El Capitan 50-13 last week, the Mustangs knew they were stepping up in class against Folsom, which won three consecutive Division I section championships from 2013-15 and added a D-II trophy in 2012 for good measure. The Bulldogs have played in a section final every year since 2011 and captured the 2014 state’s D-I championship with a 16-0 record.
Merzon said before the game that his team would have to tackle well and maintain possession of the ball in order for his team to be successful. In the first half, the Mustangs did just that. They were the more physical team throughout and the pace of their Wing-T attack put the Bulldogs on their heels for the game’s first 15 minutes.
Oakdale struck first when quarterback Marc Dickson found Hunter Falconi for a 64-yard touchdown pass. Folsom cut the lead to 7-3 on a 26-yard field goal by Oscar Sanchez, but the Mustangs looked poised to extend the lead with their first possession of the second quarter.
Oakdale set up shop on its own 32 and ran the ball 11 consecutive times to the Bulldogs’ 20. But Cameron Cherry, sweeping around the left end, extended his arm to stiff-arm a defender and was called for a facemask. The 15-yard penalty halted the drive’s momentum and the Mustangs were forced to punt.
On Folsom’s ensuing possession, the Bulldogs were aided by a 15-yard pass interference penalty and a 15-yard personal foul. The Mustangs nearly cleaned up their mess when they forced a fumble inside their own 5, but Folsom recovered and went up 10-7 when Brandon Rupchock scored from the 1.
But instead of going into the halftime locker no worse than down by three, Merzon admitted to getting greedy.
“We talked about not deviating from what we were doing and then things kind of jumped out,” said Merzon. “We were planning on getting in there at 10-7 and they were burning some timeouts so I thought we’d better get some first downs and not give them the ball back, and then we popped something.”
Bronson Harmon broke loose for a 20-yard gainer that took the Mustangs to Folsom’s 35 with less than a minute to play. After a 4-yard gain by Cherry, Merzon called for a pass play. Instead of being down by three at the break, he sensed a chance to be tied, or even regain the lead. But Dickson’s pass was intercepted at the 16-yard line and returned 44 yards to the Mustangs’ 40 with just 23.8 seconds left in the half. Three plays later, Kaiden Bennett found Parker Clayton for a 22-yard TD pass with 2.7 seconds left on the clock.
So, instead of potentially leading 14-10 at the intermission, Oakdale found itself trailing 17-7, with Folsom to receive the second-half kickoff after scoring two TDs in a 54-second span.
“I knew they got the ball first and I didn’t want to be more than two scores down,” said Merzon. “That was my mistake. I’d love to have that one back.”
Folsom took the second-half kickoff and were within 10 yards of a TD when Harmon picked of Bennett in his own end zone. Oakdale didn’t put points on the board but was able to flip the field, pushing the Bulldogs back to their own 30 after punting.
The teams traded touchdowns in the final four minutes of the third quarter to make it 24-14 heading in the final 12 minutes of action, wide receiver Joe Ngata got behind the secondary and hauled in a 69-yard strike from Bennett to make it 31-14.
Oakdale fell behind 38-14 before Cherry broke loose for an 80-yard scoring jaunt that made it 38-22 after Dickson’s two-point conversion run.
Rupchock scored on a 32-yard run for the Bulldogs’ final score and Dickson connected with Cherry on an 18-yard TD pass with 4.5 seconds left in the game for the Mustangs’ final tally.
“They’re so explosive and so well coached,” said Merzon. “They are everything people say they are.”
Oakdale gets a bye next week and then starts Valley Oak League action at East Union on Sept. 22.