MANTECA — The Manteca High Buffaloes often align with two tight ends and three running backs tightly bunched behind quarterback Joe Menzel.
Their message to the defense: Stop us if you can.
Casa Roble couldn’t.
The Buffaloes, as subtle as a left cross, stampeded into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 semifinals Friday night with an emphatic 49-13 thumping of Casa Roble of Orangevale.
Tailback Alex Laurel, the 170-pound tailback who benefits from all that weight surging in front of him, slithered and sliced for 115 yards on 28 carries and four touchdowns. His final TD signaled the clocking of the final 4:03 among many happy faces at Guss Schmiedt Field.
The No-2 seeded Buffaloes (11-1), thanks to their first playoff victories since 2007, will entertain No. 3-seed Inderkum – which eliminated Manteca in the first round a year ago – next week. For Manteca, it’s sweet old music for a proud football program that annexed two section titles in the previous decade.
“This is a special group of kids and a special time,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said. “We’re Valley Oak League champions, and that means something. We showed why tonight.”
The Buffaloes’ huge line, bracketed by tackles Joe Evanson (6-foot-5, 312) and Isaac McClain (6-3, 291), simply pushed the line of scrimmage about five yards down the field with each snap against Casa Roble (8-4). The results were touchdown marches of 62, 86 and 66 yards on their first three possessions.
Though the Manteca defense yielded passing yards to Casa Roble quarterback Peyton Wilfley, it was not as seriously challenged as last week, when Central Valley gouged the Buffaloes for 55 points. This time, the Buffaloes took full ownership after the Rams pulled to 21-13 early in the third quarter.
Laurel and fellow running back Michael Gonzalez almost hid behind their mammoth mates before skipping into open space. Then, bowling ball Hector Soto rolled into the secondary on clever counters. Casa Roble was reduced to playing a shell game it couldn’t win.
“I’m privileged to run behind those guys,” Laurel said. “No one sees me sometimes, and I just hit the open hole.”
Laurel carried eight times, the last one for an easy 5-yard romp into the end zone, to end Manteca’s 11-play, 75-yard drive during the third quarter. Casa Roble then fumbled on its next two possessions, and Manteca cashed in both for scores.
Steven Martinez’s recovery led to another Laurel straight-ahead plunge for the touchdown. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Nick Gatehouse picked up a fumble on the bounce, dribbled it once, and finished off an 85-yard sprint to the house. Manteca’s ticket to the semifinals was punched.
“We’re going to practice on Thanksgiving before we eat. That will be fun,” McClain said. “Once we get a team on the ropes, we pound.”