MANTECA – During his team’s weight-training workouts, Manteca High lineman Billy Sharmoug will often yell out to his teammates, “Is it worth the ring?”
It’s a not-so subtle reminder that everything the Buffaloes put themselves through in the weight room – the lactic acid burning in their thighs and shoulders and biceps – is for a purpose: the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 football championship.
Sharmoug is well acquainted with the subject. Two of his brothers, Carlo and Gus, played on section champion teams at Manteca in 2001 and 2005, respectively. His other brother, Mo, was a two-point conversion away from beating eventual ’04 champ Rio Linda in the semifinal round.
“It was always instilled in me as a little kid,” says Sharmoug, the MHS senior class president who smiles as easily as he tackles opposing ball carriers. “This is Manteca High … you come here to win section championships.
“Every time we break the huddle we say, ‘Get that ring!’ ”
Sharmoug will get his chance to do just that Friday night when the second-seeded Buffaloes (12-1) take on No. 5 Sacramento (11-2) at Stockton’s Lincoln High School. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
The 6-foot-1, 300-pound Sharmoug – “I’m 299.9 … gotta stay light on my feet,” he quips – has bench-pressed a school record 400 pounds, squatted 450 and has power-cleaned 290. He’s part of the Buffs’ huge offensive line that protects quarterback Joe Menzel and opens holes for running back Alex Laurel (1,630 yards, 45 TDs). But he earns his keep as a defensive tackle, where he’ll be asked to wreak havoc against the Dragons’ potent offense.
“We’re going to have to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” says Manteca coach Eric Reis. “We can’t stop them, we can only slow them down, so we have to make them earn everything they get.”
And Sacramento usually gets a lot.
The Dragons run a Spread offense that is led by sophomore quarterback Caden Voges and senior wide receiver Damen Wheeler.
Voges has completed 64 percent of his nearly 400 attempts this year and has thrown for 4,139 yards, the second highest total in the state this season. Wheeler, meanwhile, has 1,840 yards receiving, also the second best total statewide. Last week, in a 48-38 win over Christian Brothers (Sacramento) in the semifinal, Voges threw for 529 yards while Wheeler caught eight passes for a state record 380 yards, including a 99-yard touchdown.
“They run a lot of empty sets, a lot of five-wide sets,” says Reis. “And their quarterback is very composed even though he’s only a sophomore.”
Composed, yes. But when pressured Sharmoug points out, Voges can be prone to mistakes. He’s thrown 22 interceptions this season.
“If we do our jobs and play like we have the past couple of week,” says Sharmoug, “the only team that can stop us is ourselves.”
Both Manteca and Sacramento own victories over Oakdale. The Dragons beat the Mustangs 40-21 two weeks ago and Manteca defeated Oakdale 35-20 in an October Valley Oak League matchup.
The past three weeks in the playoffs, all the Buffaloes have done is average 54 points per game, raising their season average to 48.5, seventh best in California.
“This season is really a credit to these kids,” says Reis. And Billy Sharmoug, one of our captains, sets the tempo. He has three older brothers who played here and they passed on the passion for this program.
“But the 2013 team wants to leave its legacy on Manteca. They want to be a team that Manteca remembers.”
To do that, they gotta get that ring.