Oakdale High's defense has seen some of the best running backs and quarterbacks that the Sac-Joaquin Section has to offer — but it hasn't faced anyone like Vanden's Chris Broadnax.
A 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver, he is averaging 25 yards a catch with 14 touchdowns — including a 95-yard score in a first-round rout of Yuba City.
He's the sort of threat that typically creates matchup issues for Oakdale's secondary, and this year is no different. Cornerback Nate Madsen has the size to defend Broadnax, but he can't match his speed.
Of course, the best way to stop a player like Broadnax is to keep him on the sideline.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
That is the goal tonight as Oakdale brings its clock-consuming Wing-T to Vanden for a Division 3 quarterfinal. Sierra entertains Benicia in another D3 quarterfinal game.
It's the Valley Oak League vs. the Solano County Conference — Oakdale and Sierra (both 10-1) tied for the VOL title, and Vanden and Benicia (10-1) tied for their title, too.
Oakdale's a bit surprising, considering quarterback Tanner Combs went down to an injury in Week 2. Most of the passing game went with him, as Robert Stout began taking snaps and the Mustangs shifted to a run-heavy scheme.
The Mustangs topped Natomas 36-0 last week, running on 72 of 75 plays and keeping Natomas' explosive offensive players watching on the side.
With 6-foot-3, 220-pound fullback Tim House (1,143 yards, 22 TDs) splitting carries with wingbacks Blake Raham (673, 8) and Devin Brooks (1,426, 13), it's an effective strategy.
Broadnax is the contrast to Oakdale's plugging-away approach. When the ball gets in his hands, he picks up yards in bunches — he has four TD catches of 65 yards or more.
He's made a verbal commitment with Sacramento State, and he's helped make a star of sophomore quarterback Ben Scott (1,898 yards, 26 TDs).
Sierra also will be confronted with a passing attack, and Benicia has dual threats with Cory Fisher (60 catches, 17-yard average, 16 TDs) and Chris Mamon (51, 20.4, 13).
Benicia lacks balance, so Sierra has the benefit of using a pass-first defense, and letting its linemen handle the run.
There's no secret to Sierra's success, which was highlighted by a 44-42 upset of Oakdale in Week 9, as the Timberwolves are at their best when Jarrod Daniels is dancing downfield.
He's run for 1,381 yards and a Stanislaus District-high 37 TDs, exploiting a single-back scheme that requires defenses to play sideline to sideline. It also forces linebackers to focus on Daniels first, and then worry about his teammates.
That's enabled quarterback Jonathan Davis and Anthony Hall to connect on eight TDs.
If it's close at the end, Sierra has another edge: Hall has kicked a 50-yard field goal, and his 40-yarder with 1:25 to play led Sierra over Oakdale.
DIVISION 1 — Los Banos (8-3) visits top-seeded Tracy (11-0), and the Tigers better watch for Depray Celestine. He returned a punt and a kickoff for TDs in last week's win over Enochs, and the Bulldogs will use a stable of running backs to move the ball.
LB likely will be down to its third-team fullback, after the top two were hurt in recent weeks. That could mean junior Darron Brown and sophomore Greg Williams, a pair of tailbacks, could be in the backfield at the same time.
When they met in Week 1, Los Banos let a 14-3 halftime lead slip away — Celestine had a 58-yard TD catch and a 28-yard TD run — and eventually lost 27-24. The Bulldogs outrushed LB 374-160.
DIVISION 2 — Atwater (8-3) has its hands full against No. 2 Rocklin (11-0). They'll play at Whitney High, due to the poor condition of Rocklin's field. Rocklin will benefit from the move, as RB Jackson Cummings (1,607 yards, 26 TDs) and QB Jimmy Laughrea (1,979 yards, 18 TDs) will have better traction.
Rocklin also has a win over Nevada Union, the No. 3 seed in D1 and beat D2 powers Del Oro and Granite Bay (both 9-2) to win it league title.
DIVISION 5 — The Southern League has two teams in action: No. 2 Le Grand (6-4) hosting No. 3 Highlands (6-5) and No. 4 Mariposa (6-5) at No. 1 Capital Christian (7-3).
It's a battle of contrasts in Sacramento: Mariposa is led by RB Cody Christopher (1,468 yards, 19 TDs) and Capital Christian has QB James Lee (2,200 yards, 29 TDs).