Panthers, Patriots for MMC title? Surprise

Manteca, Sierra vie for VOL crown

jcortez@modbee.comOctober 31, 2013 

Last year, Modesto High's big game of the season came in Week 10 against Johansen.

The Panthers entered the game riding an eight-game losing streak, while the Vikings had lost 10 in a row, dating back to the previous season.

Johansen won 38-32 ... and the battle for last place in the Modesto Metro Conference was decided.

So it was something of a surprise this year when the Panthers were picked to finish third in the conference in a poll of MMC coaches.

A surprise to everybody except the players at MoHi, that is.

"We knew before we started working out in the summer, when we first met with Coach (Richie) Alkire," said junior receiver Will Gallo. "We knew we could do it."

When Gallo says the Panthers knew they could do it, he's not talking about living up to those third-place expectations of the MMC coaches poll. He's talking about winning the conference title.

Modesto (5-3, 3-1 in the MMC) will have a chance to do that Friday night when they host first-place Beyer at Downey's Chuck Hughes Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

"I do like how we're playing right now," said Alkire. "After the bye week (Oct. 4), we've really, really clicked."

Beyer is something of a surprise, too. Though the Patriots were a respectable 5-5 last season in coach Bill Flesher's first year at the helm, they were the fifth-place finisher in the MMC coaches poll.

But Beyer (6-2) has already qualified for the playoffs by winning six games, and is 4-0 in league play.

The Beyer-Modesto matchup might be the biggest game in the city Friday night, but Manteca vs. Sierra is probably the biggest game in the Stanislaus District.

Manteca, just a couple of points away from being undefeated this season, is 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Valley Oak League. The Buffaloes' only loss was 28-27 to Wilcox High (6-1) in Santa Clara. Sierra, meanwhile, is 6-2 and 4-1 in the VOL, and both teams have winnable games next week.

"The whole city is pretty excited about this one," said Manteca head coach Eric Reis. "The VOL title will be up for grabs on every level Friday night — freshman, junior varsity and varsity."

Sierra uses a spread offense, led by quarterback Jake Pruitt, who has completed 68 percent of his passes this season — and he's averaging 33 attempts per contest — for just under 290 yards per game.

"We cannot let him stand back there and throw for 500 yards against us," said Reis. "And we have to tackle. That's what the spread does so well — it puts guys out in space."

Speaking of space, there will considerably less of it when Manteca's offense is on the field. The Buffs' line averages about 275 pounds per man, and they favor the power running game.

Senior running backs Alex Laurel and Michael Gonzalez do the majority of the heavy lifting: Laurel is averaging 8.2 yards per carry while Gonzalez averages 6.5.

But Manteca dabbles in the forward pass, as well.

Senior Joe Menzel only attempts about 15 passes per game, but he, too, is completing 68 percent for a very respectable 137 yards per contest.

Senior receiver Brandon Dabney — who doubles as a cornerback and will be put to the test by Pruitt — and tight end Mike Hatfield, along with Laurel out of the backfield, are Menzel's top targets.

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