The Sonora High School Wildcats were trampled by the Oakdale High School Mustangs in their opening season game, shut out 49-0 in the historic rivalry match.
Coach Brian Craig acknowledged that the team did not appear “ready to play, mentally, or physically.”
Though injuries hurt their momentum at times, he said, overall the Wildcats did not exert enough pressure on the Mustangs to move the ball or stop their offensive advances.
“It’s the first game. We’re not going to know everything just by the first game,” he said. “But we do know that we have got to get better.”
Senior defensive back Devun Battle echoed his coach when he said after the game that “everything needs to be better” in order for the team to succeed.
“There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. We need to work harder in practice next week and hopefully we can come out with a ‘W,’” he said.
Just before kickoff, the Wildcats did not show any anxiety that would have foreshadowed the result. The announcer boomed from over the loudspeaker, “we’ve been doing this for 102 years, let’s do it again!” and the packed crowd of Sonora supporters, both in the bleachers and along the sideline, cheered.
In the 2017 season, Sonora lost to Oakdale 47-13 in the opening game, and followed with a 27-12 loss to Lodi. But after that, the team went on an eight-game winning streak to top their league and advance to the second round in the playoffs.
But from the opening minutes of the game, the matchup appeared to follow the same trend that was set the year prior.
The heat at the start of the game was oppressive to the players and the fans alike, with temperatures still in the mid-90s at 7 p.m. Both teams were dressed in their home colors, Sonora in black and green, and Oakdale in red and yellow.
“Such is the nature of this fabulous rivalry,” the announcer said, that each of the small towns should choose to represent their inaugural season game in the colors of their choice.
From the opening kickoff return, the Wildcats sought to show their presence — however dwarfed by the sea of red filling the home bleachers — into points. But the energy and enthusiasm of their opening drive was not matched until much later in the game.
Runs by senior CJ Castleman and a penalty proved worthwhile, but the Wildcats were forced to quickly punt.
Ferocious offensive pressure by the Mustangs was stymied by a holding penalty, but their attritional advance of 61 yards on 13 plays was finally converted to a touchdown with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
A pooch kick on the subsequent kickoff put the Wildcats in favorable field position at the midline, but a holding penalty and then a fumble on their own 35-yard line put the ball back into Mustang control.
Two plays later, a long run from Oakdale increased the Wildcat deficit to 14-0, and at the start of the second quarter, Mustang sophomore Zeke Saffar made a 51-yard run to bring up the score to 21-0. On the opening play, a pass from senior quarterback Jake Gookin was intercepted, but he made an admirable attempt to retrieve the ball again when he tackled the returning Mustang.
Oakdale High School converted into a touchdown, and barely gave the Wildcats an opportunity to mount an offense of their own. On another, high, arcing, but shallow pooch kick, sophomore wide receiver Gabe Milbourn was tackled with unrelenting force just as he caught the ball and fumbled it.
In the moments before the start of the next play, another Sonora High School player vomited on the side of the field.
Milbourn, who is 14 years old, his father said after the game, said his first varsity football game was fun, though he felt that the result was tough on the team.
For the remainder of the first half, the merciless offensive rout from the Mustangs was brought to a relative standstill. Both teams mounted opportunities that did not come to fruition, and the half ended with Oakdale High School maintaining their shutout at 28-0.
The Oakdale kick-off return at the beginning of the second half was an indication of their continuing determination to widen the score. But Sonora High School was equally determined to stymie the Mustangs’ offensive pressure, and also apply some of their own.
For at least some time, the equal and opposite forces prompted a sense of inertia. Sonora High School senior linebacker Tristan Hagstrom and senior defensive back Devun Battle walled out much of Oakdale High School’s efforts, just as sophomore wide receiver Milbourn made a few short-lived runs up the field.
But the Mustangs soon overcame the gridlock, and scored another touchdown with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. With less than a minute remaining in the quarter, Oakdale High School widened the score again to 42-0.
In the next Wildcat possession, a powerful tackle on a blitz from behind Gookin forced another fumble. In the first defensive play, Battle seemed to sustain an ankle injury and hobbled off the field with some assistance from team medical staff.
The final quarter was marked by the offensive gridlock which characterized other moments of the game. In the final minute, Sonora High School gave other players an opportunity to play the field, but the effort proved to be ineffectual.
The final score, accompanied by a cheer from the sea of red in the home bleachers, was 49-0.
Next Friday, Sonora will play against the Ripon High School Indians in their first home game of the season.
Milbourn said he was looking forward to “just playing with this team again,” while Craig cautioned that this would be another “tough game.”
On Monday, he said the team would watch film of the game, he would review an injury list, and they would get ready for their next match.