Two storied programs collide at The Corral on Friday evening in a game that could go a long way in deciding the Valley Oak League title.
Large-school No. 3 Manteca visits top-ranked Oakdale in the 97th meeting between the original members of the VOL, widely considered the toughest conference in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
“Manteca has always been a big game, personally,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “They were good when I was in school; that was our big game when I was a junior and senior. I have some good friends on that staff, personal friends I’ve maintained relationships with. Manteca is always big for me.”
It helps that both teams are perennial title contenders and reigning Sac-Joaquin Section champions. Oakdale captured the Division III crown last fall, while Manteca hoisted the Division IV banner.
“That’s what makes this a big game, the fact that we’re both good,” Merzon said. “If one us fell off, it wouldn’t mean as much. It wouldn’t be the big game. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line and that’s why it’s a big game this year.”
The Mustangs lead the all-time series 51-41-4, but the Buffaloes own bragging rights. Manteca was one of just two teams to beat Oakdale last fall, squeaking out a 30-22 decision at Guss Schmiedt Field.
“That was a weird game last year. We didn’t have too many things go our way,” Merzon said. “We didn’t play well and I screwed some things up. You can’t do that against a quality opponent.”
Oakdale bounced back from that loss with seven consecutive victories, including a 47-0 annihilation of Bishop’s School of La Jolla in the Division III-A state bowl.
“Do they have a bad taste in their mouths from last year? Maybe,” said Merzon, who starts 19 seniors. “But it’s not about Manteca. We didn’t play our best. We didn’t represent. I think our kids are excited to play football and we know it’s going to be a great challenge.”
The Mustangs have already avenged one loss with a season-opening victory at Sonora, then The Bee’s No. 1-ranked small-school team. Cameron Cherry scored four touchdowns as the Wing-T offense hit the ground running in a 47-13 win.
Manteca fell of championship pace with a loss to No. 2 Central Catholic in their VOL opener. The Buffaloes turned the ball over three times near the goal line and lost Harvard-bound defensive lineman Justin Kakala on the first series. Kakala was ejected for striking Dauson Booker in the helmet and sat out last week’s homecoming win over Lathrop.
Not that the Buffaloes needed the man in the middle.
Sophomore Trabron Russell became the first Buffalo running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a 50-0 win over the Spartans. It was an encouraging sign for an offense that had been one-dimensional through the first four games. Quarterback Gino Campiotti shouldered the load in victories over state-ranked Valley Christian, Christian Brothers and Enochs.
A dual threat, Campiotti was the team’s leading rusher going into last week’s game.
Merzon stops short of comparing Campiotti to Folsom’s Kaiden Bennett, another dual-threat quarterback. Bennett was brilliant as the Bulldogs snapped the Mustangs’ 24-game home winning streak on Sept. 8. He was 19 of 28 for 257 yards and accounted for five touchdowns.
Still, he has a healthy respect for the Buffaloes’ signal-caller.
“Gino is a terrific quarterback and he has the ability to take over a game by himself,” Merzon said. “He’s surrounded by good players, but Folsom was about all of the cast.
“For us, all eyes will be on No. 3, defensively. Everything they want to do – everything! – will run through No. 3, as it should. We’ve run the gamut of terrific quarterbacks, but Gino is truly unique. He’s athletic and can throw, and he likes the bright lights. It’s just a terrific challenge for us.”
Week 6 Predictions
Last Week: Burns 22-2 (129-42). Cortez: 24-0 (131-41)
Central California Conference
Buhach Colony vs. El Capitan, at Merced College. Burns: Buhach Colony. Cortez: Buhach Colony.
Pitman at Atwater. Burns: Pitman. Cortez: Pitman.
Golden Valley at Turlock. Burns: Turlock. Cortez: Turlock.
Central California Athletic Alliance
Big Valley Christian vs. Turlock Christian, at Delhi. Burns: Big Valley. Cortez: Big Valley.
Stone Ridge Christian at Sierra Ridge/Rite of Passage. Burns: SRC. Cortez: SRC.
Modesto Metro Conference
Downey vs. Beyer at Johansen. Burns: Downey. Cortez: Downey.
Johansen at Gregori. Burns: Gregori. Cortez: Gregori.
Modesto vs. Enochs, at Downey. Burns: Modesto. Cortez: Enochs.
Mother Lode League
Amador at Argonaut. Burns: Argonaut. Cortez: Argonaut.
Bret Harte at Calaveras. Burns: Calaveras. Cortez: Calaveras.
Sonora at Summerville. Burns: Sonora. Cortez: Summerville.
Delhi at Waterford. Burns: Delhi. Cortez: Delhi.
Mariposa County at Gustine. Burns: Gustine. Cortez: Gustine.
Le Grand at Orestimba. Burns: Orestimba. Cortez: Orestimba.
Denair at Ripon Christian. Burns: Ripon Christian. Cortez: Ripon Christian.
Escalon at Hilmar. Burns: Escalon. Cortez: Escalon.
Hughson at Modesto Christian. Burns: Modesto Christian. Cortez: Modesto Christian.
Ripon at Mountain House. Burns: Ripon. Cortez: Ripon.
Valley Oak League
Central Catholic at East Union. Burns: Central Catholic. Cortez: Central Catholic.
Manteca at Oakdale. Burns: Oakdale. Cortez: Oakdale.
Lathrop at Sierra. Burns: Lathrop. Cortez: Sierra.
Western Athletic Conference
Central Valley at Livingston. Burns: Central Valley. Cortez: Central Valley.
Los Banos at Ceres. Burns: Los Banos. Cortez: Los Banos.
Patterson at Pacheco. Burns: Patterson. Cortez: Patterson.
Brookside Christian vs. Riverbank. Burns: Brookside Chr. Cortez: Brookside Chr.
Send your picks, comments and thoughts to reporter James Burns at email@example.com, or in a message on Twitter @jburns1980.