Whitney downs Oakmont 35-14 to clinch playoff spot

The Wildcats improve to 6-1 this season, face Roseville Friday night
By: Cameron Salerno - For The Press Tribune
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Despite dark clouds and projected rain, the atmosphere for Friday night’s CVC clash between the Oakmont Vikings and Whitney Wildcats was electric, but dry. 

In front of a large crowd, Whitney used a late rally in the fourth quarter to remain unbeaten at home this year (4-0) with a 35-14 victory. The win puts the Wildcats in a tie for first place in the Capital Valley Conference with undefeated Antelope — a team they will see in the final week of the regular season.

“Homecoming is a big deal in high school, so this win was big, but I feel like we didn’t play our best football, at least offensively,” Whitney’s coach Paul Doherty admitted. “We got a win though, which is good and we’re tied for first place in league with a lot of work ahead, so we definitely know where we stand.”

Despite putting up three scores in the first half, Whitney’s first few drives stalled and the team was forced to punt. It took six minutes for junior quarterback Jake Cruz and the Wildcats to find the end zone and that came on a 58-yard pass to David Owens. 

“Our offense was a little shaky at first,” Cruz acknowledged. “Then our whole team, including our line, started to pick it up and our receivers made some big plays for us.” 

Cruz threw for 379 yards to five different receivers, adding four scores and four plays of more than 26 yards. Three of those touchdown passes came in the second half as the home team pulled away. 

“Defensively, we executed our gameplan,” Oakmont’s coach Tim Moore pointed out. “We got a lot of opportunities, over and over, and their defense did the same thing against us by executing their scheme when they needed to. The difference was they got a few big plays on us and took advantage of a short field because of some muffed punts.”

Meanwhile, the Vikings fall to 4-3 this season and 1-3 in CVC play as they couldn’t rain on Whitney’s homecoming party despite pulling within seven points after three periods.

Oakmont's signal caller Jake Knapp threw for two scores and even helped out his own cause on defense by picking off a Cruz pass in the first half. 

“Our usual suspects stepped up tonight for us — Jake Knapp, who was on the run all night long, played well I thought,” Moore admitted. “But we’re still really young. We start four sophomores on the offensive line, so they’re still getting used to the varsity level.” 

Oakmont played its best football at the start of each half. After the extended halftime break, the Vikings came out in the third quarter firing on all cylinders and scored a touchdown just over a minute into the second half. The Vikings even recovered the ensuing kickoff, which was muffled by Whitney’s kick returner.

Despite trailing by one touchdown and getting the ball back, the Vikings’ offense couldn’t maintain the momentum as they convert their turnover into points. 

Whitney’s defense, which blocked an earlier field goal attempt, stepped up late and maintained a fourth quarter shutout. 

“I think Oakmont is a good team and they played well tonight,” Doherty confessed. “They are 4-3 now after this game but probably still a playoff team. We didn’t play that well, but we are going to own it. Tim Moore does a great job coaching those kids up and getting them ready to play. They’ll bounce back next week.”

The Vikings will face 2-5 Ponderosa at home this week as they seek their second win in league play. Oakmont needs at least one win in the final three weeks of the regular season to become playoff eligible. The Bruins enter the game with a 1-3 league record, but did put up 69 points against Bella Vista three weeks ago.

“We have to win next week to earn our fifth win overall and also our second league win, which would at least qualify us for the postseason,” Moore stated. “Ponderosa is a team we should beat.” 

That game, plus Whitney’s showdown against Roseville this Friday, will have major playoff implications. 

The Tigers, who just clinched their own playoff spot with a 59-0 win over Bella Vista, sit in third place behind Whitney and Antelope in the league standings. Friday’s outcome could determine which team finishes first, second and third in the CVC this year.

“We have to come out ready to play for that game,” Doherty admitted. “We have to play lights-out against Roseville.”

The Wildcats tamed the Tigers last year at home, 24-14, will have to travel to Hanson Field in downtown Roseville Friday for a 7:15 p.m. kickoff.