Tears flowed down the cheeks of many Vista del Lago football players Friday night.
The Eagles had just lost 22-9 to Oakdale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game at Lincoln High School in Stockton and the loss brought an end to the program’s most successful season. The Eagles lost their first and last games of the season, winning 12 in between, and reached the title game, only to come up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. As the players sobbed, Coach Chris Jones addressed the team.
“I know it hurts and I understand that, but I’m going to praise you guys right now,” Jones told his team. “You guys were all in all year and did a great job. I know you don’t feel good about tonight and that feeling will take awhile to go away, but I liked our fight. To our seniors, I can’t say enough about how you led the team all year. You took us to a place where we’ve never been. I know it’s hard to go out this way, but you guys set the standard of what Vista del Lago football is all about. You should be proud of yourselves and what you’ve done and I’m going to miss you.”
While the loss stung, what this team accomplished was huge for the program. Going from the second round last year to the title game this year was a huge step and a big improvement. The next stepping stone has been put in place.
“This year was a giant leap for the program to make from a year ago,” Jones said. “The guys bought into it and it was awesome to watch them grow. The seniors provided the leadership and that says a lot about them. We keep talking about progress and we keep taking the steps. We’re a big step closer to our goal now.”
That goal, obviously, is to win a section championship and even moments after defeat, that’s what many of the players talked about as they had a moment to address their teammates.
“I want to thank everyone for busting their butts and making this a special season for me,” said senior linebacker Nick Rametta. “This game is over now and it’s time to get back to work. Next year you guys are going to play Oakdale again and will beat them. Get it done.
Rametta continued, “Enjoy your time playing together because you’re not going to get it back. The relationships I’ve made this year I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
Later, Rametta predicted the Eagles will return to the section championship game next season.
“The juniors and the sophomores pushed us so hard in practice this year and they’re hungry,” he said. “This team has great heart and never gave up. They will be back in the section championship game next season and that’s the reason why.”
With several key players returning next year including quarterback Matt Jimison, running back Josh Pfeffer, receivers Brad Rittenhouse and Tyler Kaim, linemen Pat Roche, Mitch Delparte and Cooper Valencia, linebackers JT Winkler and Kevin Wentz and defensive backs Andrew Schantz, Austin McGuire and Jacob Jones, many pieces are already in place.
Oakdale 22, Vista del Lago 9
Vista del Lago’s dream of winning a section football title will have a wait another year.
The Eagles were thrilled to make the big step to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game this season, but for the second straight year the Eagles were eliminated by Division III power Oakdale, this time 22-9.
While the rain that everyone thought would be a factor all week turned out to be a no-show at Lincoln High School in Stockton, it was the Oakdale defense that took care of the Vista offense all by itself. The Eagles only managed one touchdown, coming midway through the fourth quarter when the outcome was already determined. Vista turned the ball over five times, gave up a safety and had a punt blocked, clearly playing its worst game since the season-opener against Oak Ridge, the team’s only other loss.
“You can’t turn the ball over like that in any game let alone the section championship game,” Jones said. “Oakdale had a lot to do with that. They were more physical than us, but at the same time we didn’t have our best game.”
For the second year in a row, Oakdale scored the opening points of the game one a pick-six, which turned out to be a sign of things to come for the Eagles. Last year the Mustangs intercepted Aaron Young three times and this year picked off Jimison four times, after he’d only thrown nine interceptions in the previous 12 games.
The Eagles were able to gain yardage in the first half, including 58 yards rushing from Pfeffer and 60 yards from Jimison through the air, more than double the damage the Mustangs managed on Vista’s defense, but Vista still trailed 14-3 at halftime.
The pick-six obviously hurt, but Oakdale’s second touchdown was also a gift from the Eagles. After having a punt nearly blocked followed by one fully blocked, Evan Ewey’s third punt of the second quarter – deep in Vista’s own end -- came off the side of his foot and went for seven yards. Oakdale took over at the Vista 24-yard line and three plays later, a 21-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Thomas to Austin Jones put the Mustangs up 13-3 with Sean Harrity’s extra point making it 14-3.
Vista’s only points of the half came on a 33-yard field goal coming on Vista’s second possession and its best drive of the game, which covered 61 yards over 15 plays. No other Vista drive on the night lasted longer than eight plays and no Vista drive in the second half was longer than five plays before they punted or turned the ball over.
Schantz had an interception for the defense, while the group did a great job on the Mustangs, led by the line of Chris Grunsky, Brandon Kim, Ewey and Austin Muir, along with linebackers Rametta, Austin Eberle, Wentz and Winkler.
“The game plan was to play physical and if we did that we had a chance,” Rametta said. “The key was to stop number 44 and I thought we did that except for a couple of plays in the second half and that might have been the difference in the game.”
Jones said that the defense played great.
“Over the last six weeks our defense has been outstanding,” Jones said. “I can’t say enough of the way they played. Our offense didn’t do enough tonight to help them out.”