MANTECA — It will appear in the box score as a 16-yard run, but Alex Laurel's fourth touchdown of the night against intracity rival Sierra actually covered about 75 and it cinched the Valley Oak League title for Manteca High.
The Buffaloes dominated the Timberwolves in a 35-14 victory that ended Oakdale High's six-year reign atop the conference standings on Friday night at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
Manteca called for a toss right and Laurel, standing in the center of the field about 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage, took a pitch from quarterback Joe Menzel and ran about 15 yards to his right.
"Once I got over to that side," said Laurel, pointing to the home sideline, "I thought, 'This isn't going to work.' "
So the 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior reversed his course and made a looping turn to the visitors' sideline. By the time he got back to the center of the field, he was back beyond the 30, where he picked up a key block from Mickey Gonzalez.
"When I got back to the center of the field, I knew I was going to score."
After getting back to the middle, Laurel turned upfield and raced to the pylon, leaping over a Sierra defender as he broke the plane of the goal line.
That TD made the score 28-7. Had Laurel been caught for a loss, Manteca (8-1, 6-0 VOL) probably would've been forced to punt. And since the Timberwolves scored on the first play of the fourth quarter Bryson Sanders caught a 21-yard pass from QB Jake Pruitt (27-for-33, 230 yards) it could've been a one-score margin with more than 11 minutes remaining.
Sierra (6-3, 4-2) opened the game with an impressive 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took up more than 6 minutes. Pruitt was hot early, completing 11 of 13 passes for 92 yards in the opening stanza.
"We were definitely concerned early on," said Manteca coach Eric Reis. "Pruitt is an extremely accurate quarterback. Our coverages were pretty good, but he just made plays. And the fact they held the ball for six minutes concerned us. We're a team that wants the ball and to dictate the tempo.
"Once we scored we seemed to settle a bit."
The Buffs finally got on the board when Laurel popped in from 5 yards out with 6:27 to play in the first half. After Lechi Nkwocha recovered a Sanders fumble on Sierra's 22, Laurel scored on the next play to give Manteca its first lead with 5:27 to go in the half.
Manteca cornerback Brandon Dabney intercepted Pruitt 35 seconds later Elijah Cooper later had an interception of Pruitt and Manteca took over on its own 44.
Facing a fourth-and-16 with 42 seconds remaining, Laurel scored from 31 yards to make it 21-7 at halftime.
Laurel carried the ball 25 times for 162 yards, while Hector Soto added 104 yards on seven totes. Soto scored the game's final touchdown, a 17-yard burst up the middle.
"It feels great to the win the VOL," said linebacker Lechi Nkwocha, who had a pair of sacks in addition to his fumble recovery. "We've been working hard since the summer. The next level is sections. We want that ring."