OAKDALE — It's been five years since the Hershey Company moved out, but for Manteca High there's still nothing quite as sweet as a visit to Oakdale that results in a victory.
The Buffaloes got 202 rushing yards and three scores from senior running back Alex Laurel, building a four-touchdown lead in the third quarter before notching the 35-20 victory that gave Eric Reis his 100th victory as Manteca's football coach. (Watch video highlights)
"I have a lot of mileage on me, like a taxi," Reis said, after being doused by the water bucket in the final minute. "But for us to finally beat Oakdale here, it's a great feeling and a testament to my staff."
It's a group of coaches that has remained nearly intact under Reis, in his 13th season at the helm. Because of that, Oakdale coach Trent Merzon who has 136 wins under his belt sent some special praise to the Buffaloes' braintrust.
"I have so much respect for that whole staff," Merzon said. "They threw water on Eric but they could have thrown water on several coaches they've been together that long. We care about those guys and we certainly respect them, so somewhere deep down inside I'm happy for them as coaches."
And make no mistake. This game went a long way toward deciding the Valley Oak League crown, as it does every year.
Since the start of the 2006 season, Manteca is 38-7 in VOL play, with six of the losses coming to Oakdale.
The Mustangs, meanwhile, are 41-4 in league play over that same span, with three of the losses coming at the hooves of the Buffaloes.
It's a three-team race this season with Sierra very much in the mix, but the cast of frontrunners seldom changes in the VOL which makes any win at The Corral special for visiting teams.
"Oakdale has like six straight VOL championships, and to come in and beat them here, and for me to get 200 yards and three touchdowns is a big accomplishment," Laurel said, adding that it was special to be on the team that put Reis in triple figures as a coach.
"It's not a special as a section title would be, but it's special," the senior said. "It's historic."
Manteca (5-1 overall, 3-0 VOL) wasted no time establishing its superiority in the game, and was given a boost when Oakdale (3-3, 2-1) fumbled away the ball on the game's first play. The Buffaloes needed six plays to score from the 18, with Laurel diving in from the 2.
Quarterback Joe Menzel, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 160 yards, connected with tight end Michael Hatfield for a 15-yard score midway through the second quarter, then hit Laurel out of the backfield for a 6-yard score with 9 seconds left in the half for a 21-0 lead.
At that point, Manteca had outgained Oakdale 179 yards to 62, and the Mustangs had run only four plays on the Buffaloes' side of the 50.
"That's probably the worst half of football we've played on this field since I've been here, 13 years," Merzon said. "It doesn't get worse than that first play and I'm not sure what happened."
Well, it did get worse, and in a hurry. On the opening play of the second half, Manteca ran a counter to the left side that Laurel broke for 80 yards and a 28-0 lead.
"I didn't see anything except Oakdale biting on the motion, and all their guys over on the right," said Laurel, who two weeks ago ran for 194 yards against Sonora. "I think I was about five steps into the run when I knew I was gone. All I needed to do is get past their line."
Oakdale continued to plug away on the ground, and got 152 yards rushing and three touchdowns from junior Brock Whiting, but the Mustangs never weres in a position to threaten the Buffaloes' big lead.
It means that the VOL title now runs through the city of Manteca, with the Buffaloes and Sierra headed for a Nov. 1 showdown on the Timberwolves' field.
"This game is what it is two great programs, and games like this is what you expect," Reis said.
"We've played a good schedule and we scrimmaged Atwater and Ripon. I think we were ready for this opportunity and we were the better team today."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek