There was much emotion following Sonora's season-ending loss to Oakdaleon Fridaynight.
There was a lot of sadness. But there was also a sense of, "We could have won that football game."
Sonora out-rushed Oakdale 220-210.
The Wildcat defense intercepted two passes while the offense committed just one turnover.
Sonora did not let the ball hit the turf the entire game for the first time this season while forcing four Mustang fumbles. But, like the score, none of those fumbles bounced the Wildcat way.
Sonora fell 28-21 to Oakdale in the final Valley Oak League clash between the two rivals in front of a packed house at Dunlavy Field.
"We played our hearts out," said Wildcat senior defensive back Andrew Nessi. "It just didn't fall our way. This team deserved to win I think. I love everybody on this team, they're my brothers, and I didn't want it to end like this."
Oakdale received the opening kick and made its first drive look pretty easy, taking just five plays to go 72 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
But if the Mustang's made it look easy, the Wildcats did one better.
Sonora fullback K.C. Brandsted on the first play flashed through the middle of Oakdale's defense barely touched for a 66-yard touchdown run to tie the game. That run also pushed Brandsted over 1,000 for the season. He finished with 1,063.
Oakdale took the lead on its next drive and went to its bag of tricks to get it. On fourth down, the Mustangs converted on a wide receiver reverse pass that went for a 32-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
The teams combined for 21 points in the first six minutes but just 28 were scored in the final 42 minutes as both defenses clamped down.
Sonora defensive end Tait Mele stuffed an Oakdale drive with a 6-yard sack to force third-and-long and, eventually, a punt.
Midway through the second quarter, Nessi picked off a long pass attempt on third down at the Sonora 9.
But Oakdale won the field-position battle and grabbed a 21-7 lead with 57 seconds left in the half. On the 42-yard scoring drive Sonora forced an Oakdale fumble at the Cat 5 but the ball bounced the Mustangs way.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sonora's Will Collamer exploded down the sideline for a touchdown to send the crowd into a frenzy.
But a penalty flag canceled the excitement and the Wildcats fans let the officials know what they thought.
"The kickoff return that got called back was a huge momentum shift," said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. "That would've made it a real tight game again. It was tight throughout, but that was a real momentum shift. But the kids fought so hard, it's just frustrating. A couple of calls here or there and it's a different ball game."
Sonora defensive back Carter Denton made an interception on Oakdale's first drive of the second half, sparking the Wildcat offense.
The Wildcats marched 65 yards on 10 plays capped by Billy Kiriluk's 13-yard bull-dozing run, where he lunged the final 2 yards to the goal line.
Oakdale immediately answered with a quick touchdown strike, a 44-yard scamper to make it 28-14 with8:59remaining.
Sonora made it close with a bone-crunching, 14-play, 82-yard drive capped by a Zach Atwood 2-yard run with 16 seconds left to make it 28-21.
The Wildcats' onside kick attempt failed and the Mustangs (6-4, 5-2 VOL) celebrated.
"There's some disappointment and sadness of course," Mele said. "I'm never gonna play with these guys again. I grew up playing with them, it's hard to see it come to an end."
"It's not that I'm feeling bad about not playing another down of football, it's mainly because I'm not gonna get to play with these guys ever again," said Wildcat senior co-captain Steve Lawrence. "Some of these guys I've played with forever, like eight years. It's sad that the brotherhood is not gonna be the same ever again."
"I'm a little frustrated and disappointed," Craig said. "Our offense didn't play like we had been playing. We just didn't seem to get on track tonight. Our defense played fantastic. There's a couple of calls that went against us that's just frustrating. But I'm proud of our kids. They played hard right down to the final tick. And these seniors … they're good kids. They come out and work hard and play hard. I'm gonna miss them all."
When the Wildcats move into the Mother Lode League in 2014, the cupboards will hardly be bare. If everybody returns, Sonora will have a senior-dominated group and a lot of motivation heading into its season opener - against Oakdale.
"I'm already excited for next year," said Kiriluk. "We're gonna hit the weight room hard. Make sure all the sophomores get into the weight room and go kick some butt next year."