OAKDALE -- Oakdale has gone undefeated in the Valley Oak League in seven of the last 11 years -- so often you might think conference perfection is a routine assignment for the Mustangs.
Friday night's 21-14 victory over Sonora underscored how difficult a task running the VOL slate is -- not only for Oakdale but for any team willing to accept the challenge.
On one hand, the Mustangs entered the regular season finale with a title and the VOL's No. 1 playoff seed in hand, while the Wildcats -- despite entering with an identical overall record -- were playing for pride.
This time, pride almost was enough, as the Mustangs needed Nick Batteate's 47-yard scoring run with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining to break a 14-14 tie in front of about 5,500 fans at The Corral.
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Oakdale finished the regular season 8-2 overall and 7-0 in the VOL and will play host to Colfax on Friday in the first round of the San-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. Sonora, which opened the season 5-0, finished 7-3 and 4-3.
"We knew going in that this was the kind of game we would see tonight," said Oakdale coach Trent Merzon. "It's this way every year against Sonora. What got us through tonight is that the kids expected this tough of a game."
The Mustangs scored easily on their first possession, with Batteate breaking off a 22-yard touchdown run to cap a quick 55-yard, four-play drive.
Oakdale was held scoreless in the red zone on it next possession, and Sonora responded with a 70-yard scoring drive capped by Dan Link's 22-yard run with a screen pass from Matt Relei. When Link ran in the two-point conversion, the Wildcats had an 8-7 lead with 5:34 left in the half.
The Sonora lead lasted 15 seconds, long enough for Isaiah Mendez-Borba to break loose for a 64-yard touchdown run to give Oakdale a 14-8 halftime lead. Mendez-Borba finished with 124 yards on 12 carries, with Batteate running for 120 yards on 13 carries.
The Wildcats tied the game 14-14 on their first possession of the second half, moving 88 yards in 12 plays. Again, the fullback screen pass clicked, with Link sprinting in from the 26. The conversion kick sailed wide left.
Batteate's game-winning run came after a short punt gave Oakdale the ball at its own 42 with 8:06 left. Sonora had two possessions after Batteate's run, but was able to advance no closer than the Oakdale 49.
"We wanted to play our best game and if you take out a couple turnovers we almost had enough to win," said Sonora coach Robert Cendro. "We did a great job defending a very potent offense and we made enough plays on our own to have a chance."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.