Manteca runs away with Division 3 championship

bvanderbeek@modbee.comDecember 6, 2013 

— The singular goal for Manteca High all season was so clear, so defined, that anything less than gaining that precious, near-mystical section championship ring was going to be a huge disappointment.

It’s all the Buffaloes talked about. In practice. In the weight room. Anytime two teammates gathered, they certainly looked at the barren finger just begging for adornment.

On Friday night, with an absurdly one-sided 49-6 victory at Lincoln High over Sacramento, Manteca not only claimed that jewelry with a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 title, but sent a statement that it would like to continue playing at least for one more week.

In rolling to the biggest margin of victory in Division 3 title game history, the Buffaloes improved to 13-1 and now will await the decision of the State CIF Bowl Committee, which on Sunday will announce the pairings for the regional championship round.

Manteca will be seeking a bid ahead of 12-0 Enterprise of Redding, which claimed the North Section Division 1 championship but in doing so played a relatively weak schedule. The most difficult hurdle in the Enterprise season was a 23-22 victory at Oakdale, which finished 7-5, including a 35-20 loss to Manteca.

“I think we’re a pretty good football team,” said Manteca coach Eric Reis after claiming his third title as head coach and the fourth for the school. “The next step is out of our control and I have nothing to do with it.

“If this is the largest margin of victory in Division 3 history, then that is the kind of team we have. If they decide to choose us, then we’ll be honored to represent. If they don’t, well, this is a pretty good way to go out.”

The Buffaloes’ largest advantage through their section run has been in playing mistake-free football. While the Dragons (11-3) were committing four turnovers and being flagged for 10 penalties, Manteca sat back and stayed composed.

“I was there last Saturday when Sacramento beat Christian Brothers,” said senior lineman Billy Sharmoug. “We knew they were going to be chippy and lose their composure a little bit, so it was important for us to stay disciplined.”

And when the Dragons started to make mistakes on an increasingly cold and wet night, the Buffaloes charged right through.

Two personal foul penalties aided Manteca’s first scoring drive, which was capped by Joe Menzel’s 5-yard keeper. A holding penalty stopped Sacramento’s next drive, and Alex Laurel made it pay by breaking off a 51-yard run for a 14-0 lead.

Two series later, Nick Gatehouse stopped a Dragons’ drive with the first of his two interceptions, then Gatehouse turned around on offense to catch a 33-yard scoring pass from Menzel for a 21-0 halftime lead.

“It means a lot in possibly my final game to make those plays,” Gatehouse said. “I was just in the right place at the right time and I was able to see where he wanted to go with the ball.”

Michael Gonzalez opened the second half with a 56-yard run for a 28-0 lead, then Sacramento answered quickly after the Buffs’ lone miscue – a lost fumble at their own 37 – gave the Dragons great field position.

Sacramento scored when sophomore Caden Voges hit gifted receiver Damen Wheeler with a 13-yard pass, but Wheeler, who had 1,840 receiving yards going into the game, was held by Manteca to five grabs for 56 yards.

“We had some success running the ball but we couldn’t score any points, and they were able to dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage,” said Dragons’ coach Paul Doherty, who led the program to its first-ever playoff victories this season.

The Buffs, who outgained Sacramento 379-226, including 224-84 in the second half, pulled away on scoring runs by Hector Soto (30 yards,) Laurel (9 yards) and Gonzalez (15 yards.)

Laurel finished with 154 yards on 21 carries, and he knows what that means.

“All I wanted was that ring,” he said. “We were expecting a good team in Sacramento, but we were also expecting to win.

“If we get into the state, that’s another ring to get. We want more.”

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek cam be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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