The Tigers' remarkable campaign was halted about three rounds short of their goal, and the pride Patterson players felt in getting to this game couldn't override the disappointment in their season coming to an abrupt, premature end.
"Coming into the season, everyone had doubts — we were always the underdogs," said Patterson senior Jordan Levu. "Every night we came out and played — we did our thing. It was a blessing being a part of this team."
In 2013, Patterson (9-2 overall) went through a process of development, from unheralded to Cinderella to unlikely juggernaut.
But despite their success, a 9-0 start and the deepest unbeaten run in program history, the mention of Friday's contest was met by Tiger players with clenched jaws and shaking heads.
"I'm going to remember the ups of the season — beating Escalon in overtime, going into Los Banos and winning a rivalry game, taking our W's," said Patterson senior Michael Campbell. "I'm going to remember also some of the losses that will help us grow stronger; the downs that will take us into the next level of life."
As the fourth seed in the D-III postseason, Patterson dropped its opening-round playoff matchup for the third straight year, missing out on an opportunity to keep its section title hopes alive.
As coach Nick Marchy and his athletes emerged from an emotional, tearful huddle near midfield — the most bittersweet of moments — it was no surprise that many former players, coaches and friends from over the years gathered to show support.
Could there be a better location — beneath the Friday night lights of Patterson Community Stadium — to remember one of the school's brightest seasons on the gridiron?
"This hurts, and it's going to hurt for a long time," Marchy said. "But the players are going to take all these memories from the season, and carry those with them for the rest of their life."
After the Tiger defense forced Oakdale (7-4) to punt on its opening drive, it didn't take long for Patterson to illuminate the scoreboard, as the local squad found the end zone on its initial possession.
Patterson quarterback Damien Paulo looked the picture of proficiency as he stood tall in the saddle and marched his team down the field on a five play, 71-yard touchdown drive.
With fleet-of-foot running and rapid-fire passes, the Tigers easily moved deep into Oakdale territory on three plays, and Paulo connected with Daniel Kelepi on a 33-yard scoring strike that saw the senior receiver race down the home sideline to put Patterson up 7-0.
The momentum was short-lived, however, as the Mustangs strung together a late first-quarter drive, capping a 13-play, 80-yard series with a 7-yard TD dash from running back Max Stevens.
Patterson's next scoring opportunity came with 9 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first half, but the Tigers came up empty-handed.
Facing 1st-and-goal from the Mustangs 7, a Patterson player was flagged 15-yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Tigers lost a fumble two plays later to quell the drive.
Oakdale's 51-yard field goal attempt came up short as time expired in the second quarter, as both teams headed into the locker room deadlocked at the intermission.
In the second half, the Mustangs trademark misdirection rushing attack fooled the overaggressive, baited the undisciplined and created craters in Patterson's defense.
Paulo's first pass of the second half was intercepted by Christian Johnson, and Oakdale took over at the Patterson 32-yard line.
From there, the Mustangs slogged up the field on eight running plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown shove from Landon Ichord with 8:15 left in the third period. The visitors owned a 13-6 lead after the extra-point attempt failed.
On the ensuing possession, Patterson was forced to punt and Oakdale advanced 58 yards on five snaps before Darus Nelson bolted into the end zone from 29 yards out, adding a 2-point conversion sprint, and upping the lead to 21-7.
The Tigers were down, but they weren’t out.
Facing a 3rd-and-5 with less than two minutes left in the third, Paulo scrambled out to the left side to see Kelepi streaking all alone up the Patterson sideline.
The throw was right on the money, as the junior QB hooked up with Kelepi for a 45-yard gain to the Oakdale 16. The drive ended one play later, with a frozen-rope TD toss to senior Avion Warmsley to make it 21-14.
On the ensuing series, the Mustangs were forced to punt, and Patterson manufactured a late third-quarter drive that spilled into the fourth.
The Tigers drove down the field, but stalled at the Mustang 10, and had to settle for a 27-yard Alex Gebbing field goal to clip Oakdale's advantage to four points.
The Patterson defense forced a turnover on downs with 4:28 to play, but the offense went three-and-out, and Oakdale took over at its own 21 with a chance to salt away the rest of the clock.
With less than two minutes to play, Baily Dryden ripped off a 53-yard gash, which cleared the way for three game-ending kneel downs and a Mustang triumph.
Few eyes remained dry in the postgame huddle after the Tigers fell short.
While Patterson players and coaches will likely spend the next several days wondering what might have been, it won’t be long before the underclassmen get back to work in preparation for the 2014 season.
"It's tough to see the players leave with this feeling. You go 9-0 to start the season, and then 0-2 to end it," Marchy said. "Everybody that was with us came in and worked hard for us every day. They never gave up, and they kept moving forward."
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or email@example.com.