From the start of Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final, it was clear: This was going to be Gino Campiotti’s night.
The Manteca High quarterback kicked off the region’s ultimate grudge match with three designed runs, burrowing his way through the Oakdale line of scrimmage, following the lead block of fullback Michael Frisby.
“Coach (Mark) Varnum says my first ball is always bad,” Campiotti quipped. “So he says I need to run a ball or two before I can throw one.”
Campiotti took the fight to the defending section and CIF State Bowl champions, and never let up in a convincing 34-17 victory over a century-old rival at Lincoln High’s Spanos Stadium.
Manteca has won eight straight games and awaits its CIF State Northern California regional bowl assignment.
The Buffaloes (12-2) will carry the torch for the Stanislaus District, which has produced at least one CIF State Bowl champion the last five years. For the sixth consecutive season, a Valley Oak League team has won the D-III championship.
“It was hours upon hours of studying this week,” said Campiotti, who was 19 of 26 for 294 yards with one interception. He also had 56 of the team’s 137 rushing yards. “I don’t think me or my guys would be denied.”
Like a boxer sensing the knockout, Campiotti, a brilliant talent without a single Division I offer, kept swinging and swinging, until finally …
He was singing.
As the final seconds elapsed, Campiotti sprinted toward midfield and jumped with jubilation. The kid with a CIF State Division III basketball title and D-IV section football patch completed the trifecta.
“Oakdale is my favorite team to play. They’re the best team I’ve ever played against, bar none, this year’s Oakdale team,” Campiotti said. “To be able to be victorious over them, on this big of a platform, on this big of stage … my guys are studs. I love my team.”
Campiotti threw five touchdowns in all, including two apiece to Kyle Rachels and Jorge Cedano. His fifth, a scrambling, 23-yard strike to Matt Ender punctuated the milestone victory.
The section title is Manteca’s sixth, including the fifth in head coach Eric Reis’ 14-year career. Reis is now 5-1 in section championship games.
“We played inspired football. That’s what you saw tonight,” Reis said. “We were fired up. Again, we love being the underdog; we just thrive off of that. We don’t get to be that very often, so that made it extra special.
“This is something we wanted bad.”
In July, Reis intimated this might be his last year on the sideline of his alma mater, coinciding with his son and third-year offensive lineman Kyle Reis’ final season.
If it is, what a way to go out.
Manteca scored the first 20 points, boxed in Oakdale’s mighty Wing-T offense, and forced three turnovers.
Oakdale fumbled twice in the fourth quarter, and with hands on their hips and headsets stowed away for the offseason, they collectively acknowledged defeat with about three minutes to go.
“I love coach Reis to death,” Campiotti said. “If this is his last year, to give him that blue banner and make it No. 5, that alone is touching to me. I’m glad that happened.”
Campiotti was the star, but he wasn’t the entire story.
Oakdale (12-2) thundered into its seventh Division III section final in the last eight years on a 10-game winning streak.
In last week’s 63-27 victory over Patterson, the Mustangs rushed for more than 650 yards, including a school-record 359 by fullback Josh Jacobson.
Oakdale had been The Bee’s No. 1 large-school team the entire season, and then in a dominating three-hour stretch on Friday, it wasn’t.
Manteca scaled the mountain top by capitalizing on the Mustangs’ mistakes.
Oakdale attempted a fake punt deep in its own territory on its first drive of the game. Cameron Cherry was chased out of bounds for a 1-yard loss, setting Manteca up with a short field. Four plays later, Campiotti connected with Cedano on a 13-yard slant to make it 6-0. The PAT was blocked.
Three minutes later, the Buffaloes extended the lead to 12-0 on a 13-yard reception by Rachels on fourth-and-1.
After another punt, Campiotti floated a 59-yard touchdown pass to Rachels, who sprint past the Oakdale secondary for a stunning 20-0 … in the first quarter.
After 12 minutes, Manteca had more points (20) than Oakdale had rushing yards (16).
The Mustangs never quite recovered. The Stanislaus District’s leading rusher Cameron Cherry had just 30 yards on 13 carries, while Jacobson led the way with 76 yards and a touchdown on 12 totes.
Quarterback Marc Dickson was Oakdale’s best offensive weapon, completing seven of his 13 passes for 153 yards and a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jace Krick.
“It was their big bodies inside,” Oakdale coach Trent Merzon said. “They bothered us early last time, too, but we kind of wore them down. We just weren’t able to get any first downs. We had terrible field position, and we made funny decisions to put ourselves in a hole. We can’t start like we started today.”
Oakdale showed its resolve in the second quarter, trimming the deficit to 20-10 at the half. Nathan Richardson booted a 27-yard field goal and Krick’s TD reception with 34 seconds left gave Oakdale some momentum going into the locker room.
When Jacobson scored on the opening possession of the third quarter, closing Oakdale within three, momentum looked like it finally belonged to the Mustangs.
Campiotti was intercepted in the end zone by Mikai Harris, and then Dickson found Cherry racing into the clear for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.
But the ball slipped through his fingers, forcing another punt.
On the ensuing possession, Campiotti converted a fourth-and-2 with a 5-yard scramble and then drilled Cedano for his second TD. Manteca was 7 of 14 on third and fourth downs, converting three for TDs.
“We had an opportunity, but we didn’t capitalize and they went down and scored,” Merzon said. “We had chances, we just didn’t finish drives and they did. We couldn’t get them off the field.”