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A BUFFALO-BULLDOG BARNBURNER

Ceja’s 26-yard touchdown catch with time expired decides it

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A BUFFALO-BULLDOG BARNBURNER

Friday night hero Eric Ceja (8) begins to celebrate with teammates Robert Ladiges, JT Agbulos and Jesse Smith after grabbing a 26-yard touchdown pass from Matt Burrows as time expired in Manteca Hi...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED September 11, 2010 3:53 a.m.
Tracy High was on its way to beating traditional rival Manteca Friday at Guss Schmiedt Field for the second straight year, and this one was going to be a shocker.

But Manteca wide receiver Eric Ceja and the rest of the Buffaloes got the last laugh following a 47-42 heart-racing victory.

Call him the “Say Ha Kid.”

Manteca (2-0) trailed from the 9-minute, 43-second mark in the second quarter up until the final play of the game — a 26-yard touchdown strike with no time left from Matt Burrows (17-for-31, 296 yards, three TDs, interception) to Ceja. The 5-foot-8 junior previously had no catches on the year going into the deciding play.

“I can’t believe I caught it. I can’t believe I hung on to the ball,” said Ceja with the ball snugly cradled by his left arm. “I just had to run my route and see what comes my way.

“I didn’t know where I was. I got up and next thing I knew everyone was on top of me.”

While the Buffaloes battled through some tough breaks that went against them throughout, fortune was on their side on the game-winning drive, which started on the 50 with 1:06 remaining.

There was the dropped interception by Tracy linebacker Oscar Gerstenberger, and another by Brock Soares one play before Ceja’s heroic catch. David Farrington keyed the drive with a 16-yard catch on fourth-and-13 from the Tracy 43.

And so with 2.8 seconds left on third-and-10 and Manteca down 42-41, Burrows, with enough time in the pocket to scarf down a tri-tip sandwich, rolled to his right to get a better angle at his target.

It wasn’t Ceja.

“I flushed right, and I saw David Farrington come across the middle,” Burrows said. “I overthrew it, and Ceja came out of nowhere. He just made a play. He made a play when we needed one — it’s what big players do.”

It was a fitting way to punctuate a wild game.

Tracy (0-2), coming off a disheartening 26-13 loss in which the offense completely sputtered against 2009 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I postseason semifinalist Los Banos, proved it’s no pushover despite returning just two starters from an 11-1 team that beat Manteca 35-20 a year ago.

Senior quarterback Casey Wichman shook off the Week-1 rust in a big way, compiling 251 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-19 passing to go with 146 rushing yards and another score on 19 carries. Six-foot-3 wide receiver Cole McDaniel caught eight passes for 178 yards and two TDs.

Manteca struck first with the game’s first points off a screen pass that went for 14 yards to running back Robert Ladiges. Dominique Harrison blocked the point-after attempt to keep it 6-0, and Tracy responded in the second quarter on back-to-back plays.

After Wichman’s 37-yard feed to McDaniel and the ensuing PAT put Tracy up early in the second, Harrison returned a fumble 33 yards to paydirt on Manteca’s first play of the next series.

The Bulldogs wound up scoring most of their points in the quarter and led 28-13 at half. Tracy moved the ball at will for the most part, but Manteca’s defense held tough in crunchtime by forcing the Bulldogs’ explosive attack to punt on its final three drives of the game.

“The team we saw tonight was not the one we saw last week,” Manteca head coach Eric Reis said of the Bulldogs. “They raised their game big time. Fortunately for us we were able to right the ship and get it done.

“People want to say this and that about Tracy, but Los Banos is pretty good.”

Ladiges, who erupted for 211 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 51-22 win over Galt, had another big night. He got Manteca back in the game 49 seconds into the second half with a 34-yard fumble return for a score. Linebacker C.J. Rivas forced the fumble.

Ladiges was in on five scores, three of them rushing, while pummeling his way to 123 yards on 26 carries, though he did lose two fumbles.

Manteca was able to overcome four turnovers and many other mistakes. And for the second straight week, the defense struggled to hold the opposition on key third-and-long downs until late.

“Football is a game where nothing comes easy, and we had to earn it tonight,” Reis said.

Manteca will likely have to earn another one next week against upstart Enochs in Modesto. Enochs won by an unexpected wide margin against small-school powerhouse Hilmar, 40-12, Friday.

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