The rain held off until the final minute
of Friday night’s semifinal playoff game, and in the final seconds, it was Rio
Linda holding off the Mustangs in a 31-28 victory.
Down by a field goal, the Mustangs had
the ball inside the Rio Linda three-yard line with five seconds remaining and
Coach Trent Merzon called upon his running back Caleb Kuppens for the final
play of the game. Kuppens, who finished with nine carries for 33 yards, rushed
up the middle and was brought down inside the one-yard line as time expired.
“It was a tough loss. But I am proud of
the way this team played, not just tonight but since late August. This is a
tough team, a fun team with bright young men on it,” said coach Merzon
following the game.
Rio Linda entered the tournament as the
top seed and Oakdale was the five seed but seeding did not mean anything to the
“We don’t look at that stuff. At the end
of the day, it’s us versus them and they came out on top,” said Mustangs
quarterback Hayden Knittel.
Knittel completed six of nine passes for
146 yards, including a 31-yard pass to Jayden Williams to set up the final play
of the game, putting the Mustangs in position for the potential game-winning
In the first quarter Oakdale appeared on
the fast track to an upset over the top ranked Knights as the visitors leaped
to a 14-0 lead with 4:34 remaining in the opening quarter. Oakdale’s first
points went on the board with a Max Moore one yard rush to go up 7-0. Zeke
Saffar doubled up the lead when he broke off an 11 yard run.
The host Knights regrouped and
quarterback Tyson Ybarra used his legs to help power the Rio Linda rally.
Ybarra finished the night 0-for-3 in the air but rushed the ball a dozen times
for 115 yards and scored a touchdown.
Rio tied the game with 7:03 remaining in
the half on a Cameron Skattebo 16 yard rush. The Mustangs had an opportunity to
go into halftime with a lead but came up short of the end zone as time expired.
The two teams went into the half tied at 14.
In the third quarter, Moore rushed past
the Knights defensive line and turned up field for a 44-yard run where he was
just shy of the end zone. On the next play, Knittel attempted to run the ball
in but fumbled the ball into the end zone for a turnover. On the next Mustangs
possession, Saffar burned the Knights on a long 37-yard touchdown with 7:09
left to play in the third quarter to go up 20-14 following a missed point after
touchdown attempt. The Knights took their first lead of the ball game when
Ybarra exploded down the sidelines for a 48-yard touchdown to go up 21-20
midway through the third quarter. The high scoring quarter continued when Moore
scored from five yards out with 1:12 remaining in the third. Moore finished the
day with 98 yards rushing and caught three passes for 41 yards. Caleb Kuppens
brought in the successful two point conversion to give the Mustangs a 28-21
advantage on the drive.
With 8:40 left in the contest Oakdale
attempted to punish the Knights with their running game but Saffar coughed up
the ball and it was recovered by Johnny Serrano on a 28-yard scoop and score to
tie the game. Saffar finished the night with 21 carries for 145 yards and a
pair of touchdowns.
With 5:47 remaining in the contest
Carson Frazee was called for pass interference for contact on the helmet on a
third-and-11 play that extended the Knights drive, giving them a whole new set
of downs from their own 33-yard line. The drive continued and the Knights
scored the final points of the evening on a 21-yard field goal by kicker Andres
Paez Ponce with 48 seconds left to play just as the rain began to fall.
With the loss, Oakdale ended its season
but will look to regroup and get back to the postseason next year.