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Buffs avoid stumble in Santa Clara

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Buffs avoid stumble in Santa Clara

Manteca linebacker Chase McKee raises the football above his head after a key fumble recovery halfway through the fourth quarter of the Buffaloes’ 20-14 victory at Wilcox.

JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin/


POSTED August 30, 2014 12:55 a.m.

SANTA CLARA — Maybe it was a good thing that Friday’s Manteca-Wilcox football game did not take place at Levi’s Stadium as originally planned.

It was one marred by penalties and mistakes, but the Buffaloes and their hard-nosed defense held tough at Fitzpatrick Field to prevail 20-14 in the season opener for both teams. Manteca overcame two blocked punts that led to both of Wilcox’s touchdowns, momentum-killing penalties and a fourth-quarter turnover.

“As bummed as I was about the Levi’s Stadium situation, this is week zero and it’s nutty because you don’t have a lot of stuff down yet,” Manteca coach Eric Reis said.

Wilcox scored first on the game’s opening drive and wasn’t even on offense. After Manteca’s series stalled out on its 33-yard line, Eduardo Andrade blocked the punt and recovered it in the Buffalo end zone. Manteca returned the favor and blocked the point-after attempt to keep the deficit at 6-0.

In the third, another deflected punt set up the Chargers’ only scoring drive on the Buffs’ 1-yard line. Matt Alquetra punched it in to close the home team in, 20-14.

“When you get a punt blocked the odds of you winning the game are like 20 percent,” Reis said. “To get two blocks, you can almost forget about it. That they only scored two times was big.”

Wilcox also had its struggles. The Chargers, who eked out a 28-27 overtime win at Manteca last year, had trouble getting their veer offense on track early (they were outgained 199-60 in the first half) and were fortunate to lose just two fumbles considering their ball handling issues throughout.

The second lost fumble hurt their chances at taking the late lead, as Manteca inside linebacker Chase McKee recovered the loose ball off a mishandled pitch from quarterback Adam Hernandez about halfway through the fourth.

Manteca started the ensuing drive on the Wilcox 22 and turned it over on downs but was able to milk the clock down to 2:11. It was worth the gamble for Manteca to not boot the field goal since the defense was able to limit big-chunk plays for much of the night. Wilcox began its final drove on its own 4 and went four-and-out. Hernandez completed only two of his six total passes for minus-4 yards.

“Another slugfest with a great team, but you can’t turn the ball over in tight games like that. It makes it tough to keep momentum,” Wilcox coach Dan Brown said. “We played our hearts out and came up a little bit short, but what a great way to start the season. Manteca is tough and we’re going to get better from this.”

Hector Soto shouldered the heaviest load for Manteca, finishing with 136 yards and two touchdowns on 24 rushes. The hard-charging senior galloped out the gates with three first-down runs on his first four attempts. His highlight-worthy 13-yard touchdown scamper helped put Manteca up 7-6 in the first quarter. Soto broke several tackles up the middle, spun away from a defender near the 5-yard line and kept his balance well enough to dive into the end zone. The drive was also buoyed by a 41-yard burst from Lechi Nkwocha.

“Last year was a learning experience for me,” said Soto, the third option in a loaded backfield that starred Alex Laurel a year ago. “I was basically sitting in the backseat and now it’s my turn.”

Soto’s effort substantiated what Reis had known all along.

“He’s the real deal,” he said. “Pretty special.”

Junior quarterback Dakarai Charles (4 for 10, 41 yards, interception) hit Ronald Tijero from 9 yards out for Manteca’s other score.

Overall, it was a tale of two halves for Manteca, which dominated the opening two quarters but struggled in all facets over the final two. Considering the opponent and the physical nature of the game, the Buffaloes were satisfied to come away with a big road win.

“I know we’re drained mentally and physically right now but it feels great to come down here and get a win,” said receiver/safety Dominic Pisano.

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