MANTECA -- Ryan Fox slapped hands with Joe Menzel, sending his backup trotting onto the field.
And into the fire.
Menzel steered Mantecas offense over the final 17 minutes of Friday evenings 35-26 loss to Sierra, leading the Buffaloes to two red-zone possessions in the fourth quarter.
Manteca came away empty-handed each time, but Buffalo faithful learned something about their quarterback of the future the kid can produce at a moments notice.
In a lot of ways, we did some stuff better, Manteca coach Eric Reis assessed. But to beat good clubs like this
We were in position to win, but didnt get it done.
Menzel gave Manteca a chance, providing another dimension to a run-heavy offense.
Twice Reis called on his junior backup once in the second quarter and again in the third and each time the Buffalo offense roared to life.
Roll ... On ... You ... Buffs! the sideline would cheer, following each first down.
Menzel was under center for 14 of those 23 chain-moving plays and orchestrated two scoring drives in the second quarter.
His 12-yard flip to sophomore Andrew Gardner in the back of the end zone pulled Manteca to within two, 21-19, with 4:28 left in the half.
Joes ability to throw the ball is a big asset, especially down the field, Reis said.
Menzel was 11 of 18 for 97 yards passing, and hit on 10 of his first 11 throws before a clock-killing spike and a few desperate shots into the end zone in the final seconds.
More importantly, he targeted TJ Galdos.
The senior wideout leads Manteca with 25 catches for 321 yards, but didnt record his first catch on Friday until Menzel checked into the game with about 8 minutes left in the half.
Galdos finished with a team-high seven receptions for 49 yards, second only to Tylo Both (two catches, 62 yards).
He and Menzel very nearly connected on a 27-yard touchdown pass on Menzels second snap. Galdos beat his defender with a double move along the sideline. However, the defensive back used his hands to slow Galdos and was whistled for pass interference. The Buffaloes found the end zone on the next play when Sal Pena rumbled in from 14 yards.
There isnt a quarterback controversy brewing in Manteca, but there is competition under center at a pivotal juncture in the Buffaloes season.
Fox (33 of 55, 745 total yards) is the senior leader. Hes had some big games through the air Fox was 10 of 15 with four TDs against Stagg but his legs and improvisation are his strengths.
Fox had 50 yards on 10 carries on Friday, including a 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter set up by his 27-yard keeper.
He is the speed to tailback Eddie Smiths plodding, fall-forward running style.
Menzel, on the other hand, is a drop-back passer with all the requisite tools: strong arm, decent height (6-0), and a gunslinger mentality.
Hes appeared in five games, completing 24 of 39 passes (61.5 percent) for 317 yards.
Reis will likely use both in this mad dash for a postseason berth. Manteca sits at 3-3 and 2-1 in Valley Oak League play heading into Fridays game at Sonora. The Buffaloes need to win three of their last four games to qualify for the postseason.
The uphill battle begins on Friday, well, up the hill. Manteca takes on Sonora at Dunleavy Field, with dates against Lathrop, Oakdale and East Union looming.
For us to go to playoffs, we have to win (Friday), Reis said. We have to get to six wins. We have to rally the troops.
This much is clear: Menzel and his rocket right arm will be ready when called upon.
I like that, Reis said. We have a two-headed quarterback (and) that definitely gives us options for sure.
James Burns is the Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2324.